£1.5 million grant reveals hidden London museum

By Culture24 Staff | 17 June 2009
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A picture of the outside of a stone museum

The Museum of the Order of St John (above) was the 12th century headquarters of St John Ambulance

A secret London museum containing Medieval treasures including a bronze canon owned by Henry VIII, armour worn by an order of crusading Knights and ancient coins spread across three listed buildings has been given more than £1.5 million by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

The Museum of the Order of St John, spread between two venues in the 16th century St John's Gate and a further space in the nearby 12th century Priory Church, will be rebuilt with a new entrance, increased and improved exhibition areas, a Learning Space aimed at schoolchildren and a research centre linking all three sites.

The Clerkenwell sites, which were part of the ten-acre headquarters of St John Ambulance, when the first aid institution moved to England from Jerusalem in 1140 AD, tell the story of the Order's members. Known as the Knights Hospitaller or the Knights of Malta, they served as religious zealots, a military force and carers for the sick during numerous revolutions and wars.

"The Museum of the Order of St John is one of the great hidden treasures of London, tracing the continuous history of a charity which dates back more than 900 years," said Priory Librarian Dr Alan Borg. "We are now going to open the Gate fully, so everyone can see our amazing historical collections and follow the story of St John Ambulance up to the present day."

Despite attracting an estimated 14,000 visitors a year, the extensive Museum collections remain relatively unknown. They feature paintings and illuminated manuscripts, decorative furniture, ceramics, metalwork, jewellery, textiles, medals and Islamic artefacts.

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