London – St. John’s Gate

Not very far away, stretching across St. John’s Lane, on the other side of Smithfield and the Charterhouse Road, is another gate, dating from 1504, with the arms of Prior Docwra, who built it, above the archway. This was once the south entrance of the great Priory of the Knights Hospitallers of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem, one of the richest and most powerful of the religious houses that spread over London in the Middle Ages. With the exception of this gate and of the Norman crypt in the church of St. John adjoining (the keys are at the caretaker’s, 112 Clerkenwell Road), nothing is left of that great monastery that the people grew to hate for its pride. When Wat Tyler led his band of peasants to burn and pillage, they burnt and pillaged with special zest the manors of the Knights Hospitallers of St. John, wherever they found them, and particularly the priory in London, incidentally beheading the Grand Prior. The buildings rose again and lasted till the reign of Edward VI., when they were blown up and pulled down and some of the stone used to build the Somerset House of the day.

But the old gate still stands, austere and turret-crowned, and we may still “behold it with reverence,”like Dr. Johnson. The modern representatives of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem, which devotes itself to ambulance and hospital work and did admirable service in the war, went back in 1887 to live within its ancient walls.

There are many things of interest in the gatehouse that make the trouble of writing to the secretary of the Order for permission to see them worth while. There are relics from Malta and Rhodes, an Elizabethan chimneypiece in the chancery, and other souvenirs, but the coffer that contains these treasures is more interesting than anything it holds, and that every passer-by may see.