There was a festive atmosphere on the bus, with all the Pride celebrators. As we snaked northward, they alighted and quiet descended. I got off at the Barbican and it was utterly deserted.
The Barbican Centre is the largest performing arts center in Europe. It’s designed in the Brutalist style. One of my favorite London buildings, Trelick Tower, is Brutalist. I think it’s creepy but in a cool way.
To me, the Barbican is just not that interesting. However, it is home to lots of wonderful companies, like the London Symphony Orchestra and the Royal Shakespeare Company.
My plan was to wander around the Smithfield neighborhood adjacent to the Barbican, then meet Lynn, Richard, and Possum at the hotel. I had packed a backpack as light as possible for my two nights away but it still felt like I was lugging around a bowling ball after a couple hours. Much as I love to daydream about hiking the Appalachian Trail or the Superior Hiking Trail, I am realistic that they are not for me.
Smithfields is not a “Top 10” London sights in any guidebook, so I was caught off guard by all the fascinating history it contained. I don’t usually like to cut and paste from websites, but I’m making an exception today.
I passed through Charterhouse Square and this art deco apartment building which has served as the fictional residence of Agatha Christie’s character Hercule Poirot.
Here’s the Wikipedia 101 on Charterhouse Square:
“In 1371 a Carthusian monastery was founded by Walter de Manny on what is now the north side of the square. It was established near a 1348 plague pit, which formed the largest mass grave in London during the Black Death, and tens of thousands of bodies were buried there. The name of the monastery, Charterhouse, was derived as an Anglicisation of La Grande Chartreuse, whose order founded the monastery.
“The Charterhouse was dissolved as a monastery in 1537, and in 1545 was purchased by Sir Edward (later Lord) North (c. 1496-1564) and transformed into a mansion house. Following North’s death, the property was bought by Thomas Howard, 4th Duke of Norfolk, who was imprisoned there in 1570 after scheming to marry Mary, Queen of Scots. Later, Thomas Sutton bought the Charterhouse, and on his death in 1611, endowed a hospital (almshouse) and school on the site, which opened in 1614, supporting 80 pensioners ….”
That’s just the first 240 years.
An almshouse is a residence for “poor, old, or distressed” people, and the Charterhouse still serves this purpose. Here’s what their website says:
“The residents of the almshouse, both male and female, are known as ‘Brothers’. This is a purely traditional term for those living in this community and acknowledges the past when there was a monastery on the site.
“The Brothers were originally those who could supply ‘good testimonye and certificat of theire good behaviour and soundnes in religion’ those who had been servants to the King ‘either decrepit or old captaynes either at sea or land, maimed or disabled soldiers, merchants fallen on hard times, those ruined by shipwreck or other calamity’.
“The Brothers are selected from a wide variety of professions, which includes teachers, clergymen, writers and editors, musicians and artists. At entry they have to be over 60 years of age, in need of financial and social support and in good health. They must be able to live independently but have a desire to be part of a supportive community following a very simple set of rules. Their accommodation is entirely private. All the meals are taken together in the Great Hall and many Brothers participate in the many social events that take place. Many Brothers contribute to the life of the Charterhouse by giving their time as tour guides, arranging entertainment and visits, editing the Charterhouse Magazine (a twice yearly in-house publication), cataloguing the extensive artwork and volunteering to help with events. The Brothers meet as a group at least four times a year with the Master and other senior staff to discuss current topics.”
Now that’s my kind of assisted living! And here’s the building:
Not too shabby, eh? If only I were a UK resident, I would say I had found my retirement plan.