In May 1611, the London Charterhouse came into the hands of Thomas Sutton (1532–1611) of Knaith, Lincolnshire. He acquired a fortune by the discovery of coal on two estates which he had leased near Newcastle-on-Tyne, and afterwards, removing to London, he carried on a commercial career. In 1611, the year of his death, he endowed a hospital on the site of the Charterhouse, calling it the hospital of King James, and in his will he bequeathed moneys to maintain a chapel, hospital (almshouse) and school. He died on 12 December and subsequently the will was hotly contested but upheld in court, and the foundation was finally constituted to afford a home for eighty male pensioners (gentlemen by descent and in poverty, soldiers that have borne arms by sea or land, merchants decayed by piracy or shipwreck, or servants in household to the King or Queens Majesty), and to educate forty boys.
Brooke Hall at Charterhouse
Charterhouse established a reputation for excellence in hospital care and treatment, thanks in part to Henry Levett, an Oxford graduate who joined the school as a physician in 1712. Levett was widely esteemed for his medical writings, including an early tract on the treatment of smallpox. Levett was buried in Charterhouse Chapel and his widow married Andrew Tooke, the master of Charterhouse.
The school was moved to its present site in 1872 by the then headmaster, the Reverend William Haig Brown – a decision influenced by the findings of the Clarendon Commission of 1864.
The school bought a 68-acre (270,000 m²) site atop a hill just outside Godalming. In addition to the main school buildings (designed by architect Philip Charles Hardwick), they constructed three boarding houses, known as Saunderites (once the headmaster's house, pronounced "sarnderites" rather than "sornderites"), Verites and Gownboys (for scholars, who were entitled to wear gowns). The school was built by Lucas Brothers, who also built the Royal Albert Hall and Covent Garden.
As pupil numbers grew, other houses were built alongside the approach road, now known as Charterhouse Hill. Each was titled with an adaptation of the name of their first housemaster, such as Weekites, Daviesites and Girdlestoneites. The last of these is still referred to as Duckites, reflecting the unusual gait of its original housemaster, even though he retired well over 100 years ago. There are now the original four 'old' houses plus ten 'new' houses (currently three girls' houses), making fourteen boarding houses in total. The fourteen Houses have preserved a unique identity (each with its own tie and colours) and pupils compete against each other in both sports and the arts. There are now plans underway to build two more houses to cater for the new girls being welcomed from Year 9 upwards in 2021.
The school continued to expand over the 20th century. Further land was bought to the north and west, increasing the grounds to over 200 acres (809,000 m²), and a new school chapel was designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott (perhaps best known for designing the red telephone box) and consecrated in 1927 to commemorate almost 700 pupils who died in the First World War, making it the largest war memorial in England. Around 350 names have been subsequently added to commemorate those who died in the Second World War and other more recent conflicts. Most still attend a short chapel service there six times a week. The school also keeps a small archives library opposite the History block, where it is traditional for Fourths (Year 9) to do an archives project about a particular Old Carthusian killed in the First World War.
An addition to the campus was seven new Houses, built in the 1970s, replacing late Victorian boarding houses which were demolished in 1977. Other newer buildings include the Art Studio, the John Derry Technology Centre, the Ben Travers Theatre, the Ralph Vaughan Williams Music Centre, the Halford Hewitt Golf Course, the Queen's Sports Centre, the Sir Greville Spratt athletics track and Chetwynd, a hall of residence for girls. In 2003, the School renovated its onsite Library. 2006 saw the opening of The Beveridge Centre for the Social Sciences. In 2007, a £3m Modern Languages building was completed.
The school has a top 60 placing in the A level league tables, and in 2011 over 80% of pupils are awarded an A* or A grade at GCSE. In 2009, the school announced its decision to switch from A Levels to the International Baccalaureate and Cambridge Pre-U. In 2012 Charterhouse had its best set of Cambridge Pre-U results with 96% of examinations taken awarded Distinction or Merit grades. Seventy-eight pupils achieved Distinctions (or their A level equivalent) in all subjects taken and twenty-one achieved the equivalent of A level A* grades in all their subjects. Twenty pupils were offered places at Oxford or Cambridge.
In 2007, Roy Hattersley, former Deputy Leader of the Labour Party and minister, reported on a visit to Charterhouse in the Guardian newspaper. After describing his impression that "[The chapel]'s geometric spires and minarets proclaim complete confidence that Charterhouse educates men who are destined to rule the universe", he said: "Academically and pastorally, it is near to beyond criticism. And after only a brief glimpse of the school, I have no doubt that I would have been ecstatically happy there. But its existence allows the rich and the powerful to ignore the world beyond its boundaries." He therefore concluded that his aspiration to abolish private education in the 1970s was "totally justified".
The 2009 Ofsted Social Care Inspection Report noted that 'The provision for "Helping children achieve well and enjoy what they do" is rated as outstanding.' and 'This is a good school, in which boarders' welfare is promoted by a strong approach to countering bullying and child protection. Boarding staff have good relationships with the boarders, and boarders can list a range of people who they can talk to if they are worried or have concerns.'
The 2011 Independent Schools Inspectorate Report noted that 'The quality of pupils' achievements is excellent. Pupils are extremely well educated. They attain extremely high standards in external examinations and make exceptional progress in their learning because of their positive attitudes to study, dedicated and often inspiring teaching, and an academically challenging curriculum that is adapted to suit all needs. The curriculum is enriched by an outstanding range of activities'.
The 2017 ISI Educational Quality Inspection Report noted that ‘Pupils' academic and other achievements are high and often exceptional. Pupils' successes in external competitions, in academic distinctions and in sport, music and the creative and aesthetic arts are exceptional. Pupils' social development is outstanding. Pupils are polite, courteous and respectful of one another and of the adults who care for them. Relationships between pupils and staff are excellent. Pupils mature into independent and self-motivated pupils over the course of their time at school and are extremely well prepared, not only for the next stage of their lives, but also to contribute to society at large.’
The school began accepting girls in sixth form in 1971. In 2017 the school announced that it is moving to full co-education from the age of 13, and will welcome the first girls into Year 9 in September 2021. There will be girls in every year group from September 2023.