Victorian London - Organisations and Public Bodies - Order of St. John of Jerusalem 

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St. John of Jerusalem In England (Order of) —This order was founded about the year 1092; for the maintenance of an hospital at Jerusalem; and, subsequently, for the defence of Christian pilgrims on their journeys to and from the Holy Land.  It afterwards became a knightly  institution, but ever preserved its hospitals and cherished the duty of alleviating sickness and suffering. The order was first planted in England in the year 1100, and raised the noble structure which once formed the Priory of Clerkenwell, of which the gateway now alone remains to attest the importance of the chief house of the order in England. The order held high place in this country until the year 1540, when it was despoiled, suppressed, and its property confiscated by Act of Parliament. In 1557 it was restored by Royal Charter, and much of its possessions re-granted; but only to be again confiscated within the subsequent two years by a second statute, which did not, however, enact the re-suppression of the fraternity. Still, with the loss of possessions, and the withdrawal of most of its members to Malta— then the sovereign seat of the order—it became practically dormant in England. Many fluctuations have marked the fortunes of an institution which played a prominent part in most of the great events of Europe, until its supreme disaster in the loss of Malta, in 1798, after which the surviving divisions of the order had each to perpetuate an independent existence, and to mark out the course of its own future. It is now nearly half a century ago that a majority of five of the seven then existing remnants of the institution decreed the revival of the time-honoured branch of the order in England, since which event it has, so far as means permitted, pursued, in spirit, the original purposes of its foundation—the alleviation of the sickness and suffering of the human race. The following are some of the objects which have engaged the attention of the order: Providing convalescent patients of hospitals (without distinction of creed) with such nourishing diets as are medically ordered, so as to aid their return at the earliest possible time, to the business of life and the support of their families. The (original)) institution in England of what is now known as the “National Society for Aid to Sick and Wounded in War.” The foundation and maintenance of cottage hospitals and convalescent homes. Providing the means and opportunity for local training of nurses for the sick poor, and the foundation of what is now known as the Metropolitan and National Society for training and supplying such nurses. The promotion of a more intimate acquaintance with the wants of the poor in time of sickness. The establishment of ambulance litters, for the conveyance of sick and injured persons in the colliery and mining districts, and in all large railway and other public departments and towns, as a means of preventing much aggravation of human suffering. Tb award of silver and bronze medal and certificates of honour, for special services on land in the cause of humanity. The initiation and organisation during the recent Turco-Servian War of the “Eastern War Sick and Wounded Relief Fund.” The institution of the “St. John Ambulance Association” for instruction in the preliminary treatment of the injured in peace and the wounded war. Although started little more than a year since, this movement has already attained very great success, and local centres and classes have been formed London and in many provincial towns. The Order of St. John has no connection whatever with any of the numerous associations or fraternities now existing for benevolent or other purpose whether similar or not in name; nor is it allied with any sect or party of any one religious denomination, but it is thoroughly universal, embracing among its members and associates those who are willing to devote a portion of their time or their means to the help of the suffering and the sick. A large number of the Metropolitan Police are now trained under the supervision of this useful institution. Communications may be addressed to the Secretary of the Order of St. John, St. John’s gate, Clerkenwell.

Charles Dickens (Jr.), Dickens's Dictionary of London, 1879

His workshop, it has been mentioned, was in St. John's Square. Of all areas in London thus defined, this Square of St. John is probably the most irregular in outline. It is cut in two by Clerkenwell Road, and the buildings which compose it form such a number of recesses, of abortive streets, of shadowed alleys, that from no point of the Square can anything like a general view of its totality be obtained. The exit from it on the south side is by St. John's Lane, at the entrance to which stands a survival from a buried world -- the embattled and windowed archway which is all that remains above ground of the great Priory of St. John of Jerusalem. Here dwelt the Knights 
Hospitallers, in days when Clerkenwell was a rural parish, distant by a long stretch of green country from the walls of London. But other and nearer memories are revived by St. John's Arch. In the rooms above the gateway dwelt, a hundred and fifty years ago, one Edward Cave, publisher of the Gentleman's Magazine, and there many a time has sat a journeyman author of his, by name Samuel Johnson, too often impransus. There it was that the said Samuel once had his dinner handed to him behind a screen, because of his unpresentable costume, when Cave was entertaining an aristocratic guest. In the course of the meal, the guest happened to speak with interest of something he had recently read by an obscure Mr. Johnson; whereat there was
joy behind the screen, and probably increased appreciation of the unwonted dinner. After a walk amid the squalid and toil-infested ways of Clerkenwell, it impresses one strangely to come upon this monument of old time. The archway has a sad, worn, grimy aspect. So closely is it packed in among buildings which suggest nothing but the sordid struggle for existence, that it looks depressed, ashamed, tainted by the ignobleness of its surroundings. The wonder is that it has not been swept away, in obedience to the great. law of traffic and the spirit of the time.

George Gissing, The Nether World, 1889