Thanks to a National Heritage Lottery Fund grant of 4.3 million, Charterhouse has undergone extensive restoration, including conservation of some unique Medieval and Elizabethan wall paintings, and it will soon be opening to visitors who can explore its fascinating history. In addition to interactive displays in the main galleries, new facilities include a café, shop and wedding and events venue.
Charterhouse, its walled gardens and grounds form the centrepiece of the Trust’s major project, the creation of a new 70-acre Heritage Park on the edge of the city centre. The park also includes Joseph Paxton’s Arboretum Cemetery as well as a large area of riverside and woodland landscape.
Coventry’s Charterhouse was founded in 1381 by a visionary Carthusian monk, Robert Palmer. King Richard II adopted the project in 1385 and with his wife, Queen Anne of Bohemia, laid the foundation stone of the Priory Church.
The monks lived by strict rules and lived a truly monastic lifestyle, including taking vows of silence. The community in Coventry grew steadily between 1381 and 1539, acquiring lands and generating a substantial income. When Henry VIII ordered The Dissolution of Monasteries in 1539, the church and many of the other buildings were demolished, but the Prior’s House and precinct walls were preserved and became a private house.
In the 1560’s it was owned by Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester who used it to house Elizabeth I’s courtiers when she visited nearby Kenilworth Castle. Dudley made various alterations and it was around this time additional intricate wall paintings were introduced in the upstairs rooms.
In the 18th Century horticulturist John Whittingham and his family rented the building and created a substantial nursery within the walled gardens. The archives in Coventry hold his original journal and from this fascinating source we know he was very successful, selling highly prized and exotic citrus trees to Warwick Castle and other local country houses.
Col. William Wyley was the last owner of the house. He was an industrialist in the pharmaceuticals trade and was a very influential man in the city. Col. Wyley bequeathed the house to the people of the city after the death of his only son in the Battle of the Somme, 1916.
It was then used for a number of purposes by Coventry City Council until 2010 when it was decided to sell on the open market. After protestations by the local community Charterhouse Coventry Preservation Trust was formed and Charterhouse ownership was transferred to it in November 2011. In 2015, The Charterhouse Coventry Preservation Trust became Historic Coventry Trust.
Funding from the National Lottery Heritage Fund, Historic England and others have enabled extensive restoration works to take place, and Charterhouse will be opening later in summer 2021 to explore both the interiors, the gardens, and with a fantastic café and the surrounding Heritage Park.