Museum Of Hidden Treasures Of St John Set For Major Overhaul

By 24 Hour Museum Staff | 03 January 2008
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a photo of a stone portico entrance with three royal heraldic shields set into stonework below a leaded gothic window

The little-known Museum of the Order of St John in Clerkenwell tells the remarkable story of the Knights Hospitaller.

A major overhaul of one of the capital's most fascinating but lesser-known museums is to go ahead thanks to a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF).

The little-known Museum of the Order of St John in Clerkenwell is to benefit from an earmarked HLF grant of £1,533,000 and approved development funding of £128,800 that will open up its remarkable collections to the public.

Surviving on the site of the once great 12th century Priory of the Order of St John of Jerusalem, the museum tells the remarkable story of the Knights Hospitaller or the Knights of Malta who fashioned a distinctive blend of religion, military might and the care of the sick.

Today the order is best known through the work of their beneficiaries, the St John Ambulance.

Within the museum’s remarkable collections are rare paintings and illuminated manuscripts, ancient armour worn by the Knights of St John, a bronze cannon given by Henry VIII, historic coins, decorative furniture, ceramics, metalwork, jewellery, textiles, medals, and Islamic artefacts.

“The Museum of the Order of St John is one of the great hidden treasures of London, tracing the continuous history of a charity that dates back over 900 years,” said Priory Librarian Dr Alan Borg.

“Thanks to the HLF we are now going to ‘Open the Gate’ where all can see our amazing historical collections and follow the story of St John Ambulance up to the present day.”

The museum occupies the Grade I listed St John’s Gate built in 1504, an adjoining Grade II listed building designed by Norman Shaw and the nearby Grade I listed Priory Church with its 12th century crypt.

A redesign of the ground floor of the museum will provide a new entrance area and increased exhibition space whilst a fit-out of the galleries will provide better information for visitors.

A collections research centre will also be established and a ‘pavement museum’ will be created that will link the different parts of the museum across St John’s Square. The Priory Church will also benefit from a learning space and new exhibition area.

The revitalised museum will be able to expand its educational role, in particular targeting schoolchildren at Key Stages 1-3 whilst planned building restoration work will reverse some architecturally inappropriate alterations and additions made to the buildings over time.

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