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Alms and the woman

Features |

For the first time in 400 years, the Charterhouse has a female boss and is admitting ladies. Will love bloom? Rachel Johnson investigates 

If you’re driving up the Clerkenwell Road, you will have passed it: London’s version of the ‘low door in the wall that opened on an enclosed and enchanted garden’, that so enraptured the young Charles Ryder when he popped along to Brideshead. The door of the Charterhouse is a sturdy, medieval, oak slab, studded with iron rivets and bolts. It opens on to the most exclusive celestial waiting room in the world, far more senior common room than common: over seven immaculate acres of lawns and cloisters and secluded quads where 43 impoverished oldies – they have to be single, over a certain age and under a certain income bracket – currently live: eating together in a formal hall with a minstrels’ gallery, watering the herbaceous borders, playing pétanque, flicking through periodicals in the library, and generally having their green thoughts in a green shade, in the twilight of their...

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