Museum of the Order of St John


St John’s Gate, St John’s Lane, Clerkenwell, EC1M 4DA


020-7324 4005



Opening times:

Mon–Sat 10:00–17:00

How to get there:

Tube: Farringdon

Entry fee:

Free (except tours)

Additional information:

Limited disabled access. Shop

The castellated gatehouse spanning St John’s Lane once formed the main entrance of the Grand Priory of the Order of the Hospital of St John of Jerusalem (the Knights Hospitaller of the Crusades), founded around 1113. Built shortly after that date, the priory was burnt down by Wat Tyler’s Peasants’ Revolt in the late 14th century, and rebuilt in something resembling its present form by Prior Thomas Docwra in 1504. The Order was one of the last to be suppressed by Henry VIII (in 1540). The king then used the gatehouse for storing tents and hunting equipment. Refounded as a Protestant Order in 1831, the British Order of St John purchased St John’s Gate in 1874 and started to form a library and museum from 1888. The museum now features three galleries exploring the history of the building, the work of St John’s Ambulance, and the Order of St John.


The Galleries

Gateway to a Lost Palace’ is arranged chronologically, occupying the saloon bar of the 17th-century Old Jerusalem Tavern, little altered structurally since that time. William Hogarth lived here as a young man, hence his caricature of John Wilkes as the ‘champion of liberty’ that can be seen here. Shortly afterwards, from 1731, the building was used by Edward Cave to publish and print the Gentleman’s Magazine. Cave gave Samuel Johnson his first job, writing parliamentary reports for the new magazine, and received visitors such as David Garrick and Oliver Goldsmith. A copy of the Gentleman’s Magazine from May 1738 and a copy of Dr Johnson’s Dictionary, opened at M for Magazine, are displayed. Antique letters patent can also be seen, one dated 1557 by Queen Mary Tudor and King Philip of Spain restoring the Order’s possessions after the Dissolution, and another dated 1422 by Henry V, exempting the Knights Hospitaller from tax.

Time to Care’ is a multimedia exhibition on the history of St John’s Ambulance, from 1877 to the present day. The ‘Order Gallery’ displays precious artefacts relating to the Hospitallers, exploring their medical, religious and military roles. Here is the ‘Rhodes Missal’, a finely illuminated manuscript presented by a French Prior to the Conventual Church in Rhodes in 1504, on which the knights swore their vows of profession. Other remarkable artworks include the Weston Triptych, formerly the altarpiece in the Grand Priory Church, recovered in 1932, now comprising two wings of a Flemish triptych, one bearing the arms of John Weston (Prior 1476–89); and a small oil-on-copper of The Annunciation by Luigi Gentile in a fine silver frame, probably to a design by Alessandro Algardi. It was commissioned by Pope Innocent X, whose arms are engraved on the verso of the copper plaque. Several suits of armour worn by the Knights can also be seen here, most of Italian manufacture, as well as a bronze cannon given to Grand Master Delisle Adam by Henry VIII to help recover the island of Rhodes from the Turks. It was recovered from the sea off Famagusta in 1907. In 1530 the Order was given the island of Malta by the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. Some of the banners captured by Napoleon when he conquered the island in 1798 can be seen here.

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Details below are taken from our Blue Guide Museums and Galleries of London.  This is a 2005 title, here generally updated for website address and opening times, with useful comments from some of the museums themselves.  More recent information is given in Emily Barber's magisterial new Blue Guide London, "Exceptional update to a classic and useful guide to this amazing city" (Amazon reader review).

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