The Master’s year-ending “At Home” was held on October 3rd at the Museum of the Order of St John in Clerkenwell. The building that houses the museum is often described as a “hidden jewel” for its mostly 16th-century rooms and furnishings on the upper floors, where drinks and canapés were served. The Master’s farewell remarks can be read here. Members and their guests were then free to explore the building and its ground-floor exhibition, which was kept open late for us.
The museum celebrates the exploits of the Order of St John (the Knights Hospitaller, as opposed to the more deliberately martial Knights Templar), an ancient religious military order, from its origins caring for sick pilgrims in 11th century Jerusalem and its participation in the Crusades, through to its modern-day role with St John Ambulance. The modern organisation has a remit to provide humanitarian aid and medical support worldwide.
The building that houses the museum has an equally rich history. It is on the site of the earlier Priory in Clerkenwell where in the 1140s the Order of St John set up its British headquarters, until it was finally dissolved by Queen Elizabeth I. Much later the building that exists today did brief service as a coffee house run by Richard Hogarth (father of William), and then a pub, called the Old Jerusalem Tavern, where artists and writers, including Charles Dickens, were regulars. In-between, in the 16th century, it was the offices of the Master of Revels, the chief censor of the day. Any play to be staged in the City of London, or in the theatres on the South Bank that were under the control of the City authorities, had first to be read by the censor. Some 30 of Shakespeare’s plays were thus first licensed here.