If you’ve ever been to an event or festival in the UK, you will doubtless have seen members of the St John Ambulance brigade providing first aid and other medical services. But did you know the charity’s roots date back nearly 1,000 years?
As long ago as 1080 there was a hospital in Jerusalem set up to care for pilgrims to the Holy Land. The people who worked there were members of a religious order which eventually became known as the Hospitallers, and later the Knights of the Order of St John of Jerusalem. They wore on their robes an eight-pointed white cross, and that has remained the symbol of impartial first aid care ever since.
In the 1140s the Priory in Clerkenwell was set up as the English headquarters of the Order, and you can still visit the remaining parts of the building today.
The museum is housed in the old gatehouse, which I think dates to the 16th century. On Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays there are tours to the Priory church across the road, the crypt of which dates to, I believe, the 11th century. The tours also take you to some of the upstairs rooms of the gatehouse, which are beautiful, and contain some wonderful stories.
If you can, I recommend visiting the museum before taking the tour, as my guide assumed a basic knowledge about the Order and what he was showing us, which I didn’t have. I think I’d have enjoyed it even more if I’d known what I was looking at.
There is a children’s trail in the museum, which looks fun (and has stickers they can collect – always a bonus!).
There are various events throughout the year, including themed guided tours, evening tours (with a glass of wine), walks, talks and family events (some events are free, some are paid).
What: Visit the home of the Order of St John
Where: The Museum of the Order of St John, St John’s Gate, St John’s Lane, Clerkenwell, London, EC1M 4DA
When: Monday – Saturday, 10am – 5pm,
Sunday, 10am – 5pm (July, August and September only)
Free guided tours are available to the public on Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 11.00am and 2.30pm. Throughout July, August and September an additional public tour runs on Sundays at 2.00pm.
How much: Free. For guided tours a donation of £5 is suggested.
Accessibility: The museum is all on one floor and is wheelchair accessible. The upstairs rooms and crypt are unfortunately not accessible by wheelchairs. There is accessibility information for those with hearing and visual impairments on the website.