St John’s Gate was built in the first years of the 16th century by Thomas Docwra as part of St John’s Priory, the English headquarters of the Knights of St John, aka the Hospitallers. The Priory itself only survived a few more decades until it was supressed by Henry VIII, but the gate survives, although much amended by Victorian architects. While the small museum itself is a treasure trove of St John regalia, weaponry, paintings and so on, the trick is to turn up at 11:00 or 14:30 on Tuesdays, Fridays or Saturdays to take the guided tour which is also free (a voluntary donation is appreciated). This gives you wider access to the upstairs parts of St John’s Gate and also a tour of St John’s church up the road. Today, we were shown around by the excellent Andy Rashleigh, a London Blue Badge Guide.
Treat of the day for me was to sit in the Council Chamber. This room was for a time in the 18C the HQ of the Gentleman’s Magazine where Samuel Johnson was sat down and cajoled into knuckling down to meet his copy deadline. Earlier, William Hogarth’s father Richard ran a coffee house here where only Latin was allowed to be spoken. Unsurprisingly, it didn’t catch on and went bust along with Hogarth père who ended up in a debtor’s prison.
The highlight of the church nearby is the old crypt which has a rather macabre monument of William Weston, who was the last Prior before Henry VIII dissolved the Order in England.