Whenever we see a St John Ambulance parked at a public event, we don't give it a second glance. We just tend to assume that the people who work for the St John Ambulance are some kind of extension to the National Health Service. I'll bet you would be surprised to learn that the order dates back more than 900 years and has its origins in Jerusalem.
A woodcut of medical treatment in the Order's early hospital
If you would like to learn more about the history of the Order and view exhibits of rare manuscripts, silver, armour and exhibits of First and Second World War equipment used by St John's, you can visit the Museum of the Order of St John to gain a fascinating insight into its historical background.
Windows showing Dickens, Dr Johnson, Hogarth and Shakespeare
As well as being taken back through history, you will also feel as if you're literally stepping back in time when you approach the remains of a sixteenth century building, which was once the Priory of the Knights of St John. Here you will learn how a group of knights in 1099 founded a hospital in Jerusalem to care for pilgrims to the Holy Land and relocated around the Mediterranean to Cyprus, Rhodes and then Malta. The St John's English headquarters were originally founded in Clerkenwell in 1140, and when King Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries in 1539 they were the last religious order to be disbanded.
A sixteenth century pharmcy jar from the museum's collection
The remains of the building (erected in 1504) have enjoyed a chequered history and have been used by the Master of the Revels (the equivalent of The Censor) during Shakespeare's time, where licenses were granted to thirty of the dramatist's plays. In the eighteenth century it became a coffee house, run by Richard Hogarth, the father of the painter, William Hogarth, before it was turned into a public house, The Old Jerusalem Tavern, frequented by writers, including Charles Dickens.
Why not pay a visit to the Museum. If you don't want to go in you can just stand outside and admire the remains of the old gateway, just a brief walk from Farringdon station where workmen are busily constructing the new Crossrail. The distinction between old and new couldn't be more apparent.