The Priory is also the custodian of St John’s Gate and the Priory Church, the historic home of the Order. Today these historic buildings function as the headquarters of the Priory and house the Museum of the Order of St John.
The original Priory at Clerkenwell was founded in the 1140s and the Order owned a substantial amount of land in the area.
Most of the original Priory buildings were damaged during the Peasant’s Revolt of 1381. The Priory was slowly rebuilt and the southern gatehouse, now called St John’s Gate, was completed in 1504 by then Prior of England, Thomas Docwra. The buildings in Clerkenwell were put to different uses in the years that followed. During the sixteenth century they were used as the offices of the Master of the Revels. Thirty of Shakespeare’s plays were licensed there.
In the eighteenth century the Gate was briefly used as a coffee house, run by Richard Hogarth, father of the artist William Hogarth. Dr Samuel Johnson was given his first job in London at St John’s Gate, writing reports for The Gentlemen’s Magazine. At the end of the eighteenth century the Gate was used as a pub, The Old Jerusalem Tavern, where artists and writers, including Charles Dickens, used to meet.
The Priory Church stands on the site of the original round church built by the Knights of St John and consecrated in 1185.
Only the Crypt of this church survives, however the outline of the circular nave can be seen in the pavement outside.
The Church stood at the centre of the Priory in Clerkenwell, of which only the Church and St John’s Gate, remain.
Rebuilt several times, the Church fell into disuse following the Dissolution of the Monasteries by Henry VIII in 1540. The Church was then used as a private chapel and later as a parish church until 1931 when the Church of England transferred ownership back to the now restored Order of St John. The building was repaired again following bomb damage caused during the Second World War.
On the walls hang the banners of the Sovereign Head, the Grand Prior, the Priories and Commanderies and the Bailiffs and Dames Grand Cross.
The Priory in action
*Susan, a serving member of the Royal Navy was told that she was seriously ill and would be unable to continue her military career. The DMWS Welfare Officer spent a lot of time with Susan, talking through the devastating news.
Besides offering Susan and her family reassurance and support, during an extremely stressful and frightening time, the DMWS Welfare Officer liaised with other agencies and together they provided a package of support, tailored to Susan’s specific needs.
During those early days, the DMWS Welfare Officers also spent time with Susan’s family and offered them reassurance on the treatment plan ahead. They were assisted with accommodation as well as transport to and from the hospital and given information on local services.
DMWS continued to visit Susan daily and supported her and her family throughout her treatment.
Susan and her family have remained in touch with the DMWS Welfare Officers who were there for her and her family during the frightening and stressful diagnosis and treatment plan.
*Name changed to protect confidentiality
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