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12) The Museum of the Order of St John: From Slings and Arrows to Slings and Aspirin.


The Museum of the Order of St John

We think of them as kindly helpers at village fetes patching up minor injuries and teaching people how to resuscitate shop window dummies, but once upon a time they were warrior monks in charge of a whole country.

Beware the Portuguese couriers! Also the ghosts.

  • Location: St John’s Gate, St John’s Lane, Clerkenwell , EC1M 4DA.
  • Type of Museum: Medical, religious.
  • Admission times/prices: Monday – Friday, 10am – 5pm, Saturday, 10am – 4pm. Free; donation for guided tour.
  • Facilities: Special family days, a museum club for kids, regular museum tours with costumed actors.
  • Transport:  Tubes: Farringdon or Barbican tube/train, buses 63, 55, 243. Personally I wouldn’t bother trying to park in this area, but there are pay and display parking spaces if your visit is intended to last less than 2 hours.

The main bit(s).

Strange as it may sound, I’m going to classify the tour as the main bit, because the museum itself is so small and seems to be intended as an addendum to the tour.

Be careful you tag on to the right tour, however. There are so many round here that we tried gatecrashed the wrong group twice before getting in with the right one.

Tours begin at 11am and 2.30pm and last about an hour and twenty minutes, taking in the whole of the inside and out of the arch, that ancient (well, Tudor) building you might have wondered about if you’re one of the many local office workers rushing by.

The St John's Maltese cross, old and new: although it has become simpler in design, the four arms still signify the four virtues of prudence, justice, temperance and fortitude, and the eight points stand for the eight ‘attitudes.’

The Chapter Hall inside was also designed to look like a Tudor Hall, with lots of stone, exposed beams and ‘cordalls’ supporting the roof representing the different languages common in the Order at the time (every time the word ‘Order’ is said you definitely hear it with a capital initial and a slight echo).

St John’s flags and Maltese crosses are everywhere. Both have changed over the years: the St John in question was originally St John the Almsgiver, until he was usurped by John the Baptist after the Order was given his right hand. Well, supposedly his right hand – there are about 8 of them in existence; perhaps he’s like Kali.

We are told the stories of many of the former pryors, whose shields are displayed along the walls in date order with a few spaces left at the end for the next Grand Pryors. It’s very similar, probably intentionally, to the display of Popes at St Paul’s just outside Rome; that one says that the Church will fall when they run out of space for Pope plaques, but the Order of St John has fallen and risen enough times that I doubt it’s worried about a little interior design.

The original priory was smashed up by revolting peasants, not because they hated the Order but because the Pryor at the time was also the treasurer charged with collecting the poll tax, then Henry VII shut it down, Mary opened it and Elizabeth shut it down again. Even the puritans had a go at it, perhaps because the Order’s pryors occasionally had a side-job as the wonderfully named Master of the Revels. Playwrights such as Shakespeare would have paid frequent visits to the Council Chamber directly above the arch.

Their Maltese rent was 'one falcon a year.' This is what they thought was a falcon. Good thing they were human healers, not animal.

This Chamber has romped through history like Forrest Gump. As well as the above, it hosted Samuel Johnson and Oliver Goldsmith when it was the HQ of the first ever Gentleman’s Magazine. Artist William Hogarth also lived here as a child, when his father ran an unsuccessful Latin-themed coffee shop in the building, and if that sounds unlikely, when the Order reclaimed it, the building was a pub.

The Mantle Room, now full of fairly random but pretty stuff donated by the people of Malta, has also changed role, but for a sad reason – it was the Coins and Medals room until the majority of them were nicked in the 1980s.

The museum itself has only been open for a few years, and is small but well organised, laying everything out from the original Knights in armour to current First Aiders in uniform.

While this building was going through so many changes, so was the Order. Although, as the Knights Hospitaler, they took a vow to care for the sick – and treated people of all nationalities – they got sucked in to the Crusades along with everyone else. After they got booted out of Jerusalem, they did a tour of future tourist traps Acra, Limasol and Rhodes, before Holy Roman Emperor Charles V gave them Malta.

Suleiman failed to kick them out of Malta – the Knights sent his warriors heads back to him as cannonballs – but Napoleon succeeded. After this, there are some gaps on that wall of plaques where there was no grand pryor at all.

The woman in the painting is about to leap out and possess one of the dummies. Run! Run for your life!

Returning to their Hospitaler roots was what gave the Order back the building, by then worn out from its colourful life. They got it because they’d set up an eye hospital in Jerusalem (it’s still there and very busy) and started to train people in first aid.

I wonder if, secretly, the really high-up members of the Order are trained as warrior monks too? Bandages, thermometer, safety pins, helmet, sword…

The extra bit(s).

Across the road from the arch is the modern church, counterintuitively much more minimalist than the Methodist chapel down the road that we’d visited earlier the same day. Here stood the round priory that the peasants destroyed; a ring of slate on the ground outside still marks the size and shape of the building.

Banners for the worldwide Orders - 300,000 strong now, mostly under 25. A little army...

Underneath, the 12th century crypt is still intact and, woah, this makes the whole visit worthwhile even if the lively history of the rest doesn’t interest you.

To one side is a chapel in which you can actually get married, at least if you’re a Goth or a Twi-Hard. On the other side is the alabaster effigy of one of the procurators of the Knights of Castile. He’s not an original resident of the crypt, having been brought over here after he was made homeless (he’s ‘The Interloper from Sunny Spain’) but he’s not random: as well as the page and the puppy curled up by his feet, he bears a Maltese cross. Remember that scene in Indiana Jones where they crawl through the rats to lift the lid off the tomb? This is like a cleaner version of that, perhaps thanks to the Knights of Castile.

After the beauty of this effigy, it’s genuinely shocking to turn the corner and see the ghastly cadaver effigy of William Weston. As a memento mori, they made a model that looked exactly like his corpse after several months underground, and they made his facial expression look like he could feel every nibble from the worms. Oh yeah. That’s exactly what I want at my wedding.

The bits where you end up spending money.

A postcard of two of the scariest first-aid kids ever.

The shop is very small and, to be honest, rather expensive, but the donations chest looks like it was previously used by pirates. I bought one of those wooden pencil cases and pencil sets; it cost more than usual but my daughter reckons it’s better than usual too.

Stuff for kids and people who act like them.

If you plan your visit well, there will be lots on for kids, as they do have special family events on occasion; otherwise, there is a dressing up area and of course lots of armour, and any young St John’s badger would gain from seeing their organisation’s interesting history.

This is actually inside - they kept the exterior Tudor wall as part of the inside of the museum.

I’m now looking up first aid courses, since mine is years out of date and my daughter has no knowledge of it at all; this isn’t the explicit aim of the museum, but I’m sure the Order would be pleased.

More photos.

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11) John Wesley’s House: All About Him – and Hymns.


http://www.wesleyschapel.org.uk/house.htm

John Wesley’s House and Museum of Methodism.

Here you get to preach from Wesley’s pulpit, sit in his reading chair and admire his massive organ. Oh, and learn a little about one of the biggest Christian denominations, if you like.

You put your left hand in, your left hand out...

Location: 49 City Road, Shoreditch, EC1Y 1AU.

Type of Museum: Religious.

Admission times/prices: Monday to Saturday 10am – 4pm, Sunday 12.30pm – 1.45p, free. Closed 12.45-13.45 Thursdays. Free.

Facilities: Shop, church, gardens.

Transport: Tubes/trains: Old St, Moorgate, Liverpool St. Buses 21, 43, 55, 76, 141, 205, 214, 243, 271.

 

The main bits.

This isn’t the first time I’ve been here; when I came before it was because I was lost and needed the loo, but I ended up staying for the entertainment provided by an eccentric ex-military volunteer.

Said volunteer wasn’t here today, and we missed going round the actual house because we could find the volunteer who had the keys. It’s a shame, because the friend who was with me would have loved it. The house is set up like it would have been had John Wesley still been living there, but, unusually, you can touch and use most of the items. I expect devout Methodists would get a real kick out of sitting in John Wesley’s reading chair; for me it was more of an inspiration for interior design because man, was that chair comfortable! We even made a model of it at pottery the next day. Sadly, I can’t provide a picture, because the dog’s eaten it.

Either preaching or sneezing; 'bless you' is appopriate either way.

The museum section makes great use of paintings from the time periods it’s talking about, such as Hogarth’s gin alleys demonstrating the debauchery and Godlessness that was apparently rife at the time Methodism started in the 18th century. The rest of the museum, naturally enough, focuses on the life and works of John Wesley and the other early Methodists.

'We also expect that 'A FEMALE!!!' will address the congregation.

John Wesley and his brother Charles were bright young men who came from a tradition of religious non-conformism, and they both entered religious orders, but both also had a crisis of faith after going on a mission to Georgia. ‘I went to America to convert the Indians. But oh! Who shall convert me?’ asked John. Nature-loving Apaches weren’t the cause, however, but some particularly devout Moldovans. Back in London, more Moldovans continued to make the Wesleys feel impious. I had no idea there were so many of them in the city, or that they were so saintly.

A friend of John advised him to ‘preach faith until you have it, then you will preach because you have it,’ and this seems to have worked. John and Charles had it so much that they didn’t even want to stay within the church, and preached to heathen miners and factory workers in the fields. This is part of the reason that so many of the significant Methodist sites are in the West country and Wales, which is one of the reasons Methodism became so popular in America.

The waterlogged skeleton of a typewriter that belonged to a Methodist parson who was shot to death by pirates.

Church leaders very much did not like this easy-going preaching. They also did not like the Wesleys’ ‘enthusiasm.’ Most churches in England today would be grateful for any kind of enthusiasm among its followers, but back then it meant ‘excessive or extravagant display of religious emotion’ and was much frowned upon by the grumpy puritan Anglicans.

They also wouldn’t have approved of all the singing. I’ve never been to a Methodist service, but I suspect it’s more fun than the few Anglican and Catholic services I’ve been to.

The extra bits.

Although you wouldn’t usually count the church as an ‘extra,’ it is for me, since it’s not a museum.

A detail from a window; unusually direct.

My impression is that Methodist churches are usually plain, homely places, and this is confirmed by the Welsh friend who was visiting with me, but Wesley’s chapel is really rather glamorous. Even on a somewhat overcast Winter’s day the stained glass windows were vibrant in their technicolour glory. Each pew had a different design at the end, no doubt all signifying something, the pillars were marbles, and the massive organ is on the mezzanine level along with a second lot of tiered seating.

There is a secondary chapel that’s a lot simpler, like a village chapel, and here John Wesley’s own less impressive organ is still in use. Stop sniggering at the back.

I might bring my daughter along some time so that I can go to the house afterwards –

Reflect upon your sins and the fact that you should focus on yourself before judging others, and eat your lunch on a bench.

it is open between services on Sundays.

There are open green spaces at both the front and back of the house. Although the chapel is opposite the pleasant open spaces of Bunhill fields, these gardens would be a lovely place to spend a quiet lunchtime. Even the traffic noises are quieter at the back, where a modern mirrored office building surrounds the church like a guard.

The bits where you end up spending money.

As well as a small shop in the basement, there are postcards and books for sale upstairs, for which you pay by depositing money in a slot in the wall. This is quite trusting, but I guess not many people would risk going to Hell for the sake of a 30p postcard.

Stuff for kids and people who act like them.

This pew in the museum looks like it was lifted off a flying chapel - there so should be one.

The museum really isn’t aimed at children, though young Methodists might be interested in the origins of their faith. On church days, there’s a crèche and a Sunday school and there are occasional kids’ activities and older children would probably enjoy going behind the scenes in the house.

 

More photos. The ones with names were taken by Evan Matthews.

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Competition: Free Victoria and Albert Museum membership!


To celebrate being a tenth of the way to my goal, I’ve decided to offer one

Victoria and Albert Museum membership – free!

Groupon had a special deal for these memberships a while ago and I bought two, but can’t think who would really want the second one. Now that I’ve joined the Museums’ Association, which gives many of the same benefits as V&A membership, I effectively have THREE V&A  memberships, which is a bit ridiculous really.

Membership offers:

  • Free unlimited priority entry to V&A exhibitions
  • Members’ Previews of major exhibitions and new galleries
  • Members’ Room
  • V&A Magazine
  • Members’ Events
  • 10% off at the museum cafes and shops (inc. at the Museum of Childhood) plus discounts at a few other random restaurants and a spa.

The members’ room has a computer with internet access, so you can leave your netbook at home, and free tea and coffee (make it yourself) which saves money for a start. Then you can skip the queues at Lates events and get in free to special exhibitions. The shop is notoriously good, and you get 10% off there. Basically, it’s a damn good prize.

To enter, post a comment below, answering this question:

This chandelier is in the entrance to the V&A. Who made it?

Comments will be screened until the competition’s over a week from today at midnight on Tuesday February 15th.

Update: competition is now closed, so comments are visible. I literally pulled the names out of a hat and the winner is Cheryl Morris. Hope you enjoy your prize, Cheryl!

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10) The Ragged School Museum: Gazunders, Canes, and Addictive Balls.


The Ragged School Museum.

Back straight! Elbows off the table! And don’t step on the gazunder!

Palms unsatisfactory. See me.

Location: Copperfield Rd, Mile End, E3 4RR.

Type of Museum: Local History/Social History.

Admission times/prices: 10am to 5pm Wednesdays and Thursdays, and 2pm and 5pm on the first Sunday of each month. Free, with £2 per person donation suggested for the demo lesson.

Facilities: Small but tempting shop, cafe (snacks only).

Transport: Tube: Mile End. Train/DLR: Limehouse. Buses: 277, 309, 323, 339, D6, D7 and 25.

The main bit(s).

We came to this museum because the puppy ate my daughter’s glasses. Not that the Ragged School offers spectacle-repairing facilities – it’s near to one of the few opticians open on a Sunday.

This paddle is all you need to get straight. Don't tell Fred Phelps.

There was no doubt that we were going to visit at some point anyway. We’ve been numerous times before, and my daughter actually remembers visiting, which is a sign that she really enjoyed it. One time I brought a group of adult EFL students and ended up doing an impromptu Victorian school room demonstration, complete with dunce caps and canes. The museum is interactive enough that even those students with lower-level English got a lot out of it.

Today, however, was a Sunday so the proper Victorian schoolteacher was teaching us and I got to be a giggling pupil this time. I was impressed by how into it all the pupils were – adults and kids both: the instant the teacher entered the room, everyone sat up straighter, saying ‘shh!’ It only took a mention of elbows off the desk for everyone to immediately move their hands to their laps. I’m sure there would have been volunteers for caning if she’d asked.

Ever noticed how much dunce caps look like Klan hoods, and how apt that is?

Sat in separate girls and boys sections, we had palm inspection, the register (the kids’ names actually would have fit in well in Victorian London), and morning prayer, then chanted proverbs while the monitors handed out slates, pencils and authentically-knackered cleaners. An adult should not feel proud of being able to write the alphabet neatly and subtract large numbers, but, well, I did; I blame the eager-to-please atmosphere.

Note: Dr Barnardo didn’t actually allow dunce caps to be used in his school; I’m not so kind.

Upstairs, another volunteer tells lively stories about Victorian home life, stood in a model Victorian poor person’s kitchen. Well, a relatively poor person’s kitchen – the underclass of the time often lived in just one room with rotas for beds let alone kitchen tables. The volunteer focuses on the gruesome bits of history, such as accidentally stepping on a gazunder and wiping your foot on your sister’s dress. Kids and grown-ups alike laugh.

A Victorian child's shoe found in a local chimney. Either it was put there for luck, as they sometimes did, or it's all that remains of some poor chimney-sweep.

All the volunteers are lovely. The little museum was so popular today that they could probably have done with yet another person to man the ticket desk for the classroom demonstration, but aside from that, we were impressed; of the main volunteer downstairs, Bryn, my daughter said that he was nice and makes the museum more interesting than the others. This is a little unfair on the many other museums I’ve visited that have great volunteer guides, but you can always tell when the guide loves their subject rather than just knows a lot about it.

The extra bits.

The Coat of Arms of Bethnal Green: A blind beggar and his daughter. I'm so proud.

Usually this section is about temporary exhibitions; everything here is permanent, but the local history section might not have been what you were looking for when you came here. There’s a lot of local history to pack in, of course, even when focusing on the poor; factories an local industry, the docks, faith, and culture – for example, the genesis cinema used to be a variety hall, where the usherette took home the discarded programmes and ironed them to resell the next day. Poverty-inspired recycling.

Here is also a lot about the history of the Ragged Schools. This one was set up by Dr Barnardo, formerly mentioned in the Royal London Hospital Museum post, and was slightly different to a lot of the other Ragged Schools of the time. You can probably guess that the name came from the raged clothes the kids wore, but many of the schools insisted on standards of cleanliness and pristine appearance that poorest kids, with no running water and one sink per street, simply couldn’t live up to.

Even girls were allowed to study here, though far fewer came because they were expected to stay at home and look after the house and their siblings. Interestingly, the girls found it a lot easier to get work (in the factories or as servants) than the boys did; there were lots of jobs, but there were also lots and lots of people. The same, of course, is happening in many areas of the country today.

It is a little disturbing how often the Victorian sections of these museums feel like they could have been written today.

That concentrated expression is because this is one of those extremely simple and extremely addictive toys. Just one more try...

The bits where you end up spending money.

The shop is very small but sells many of those little knick-knacks that you get tempted by and suddenly you’ve spent a tenner.

Downstairs is a small café – no hot food, at least not at this time of year – and in the Summer it has seating outside by the canal.

Stuff for kids and people who act like them.

The museum is geared up for exactly these sorts of people. Apart from the talks and demonstrations, you can dress up in mob caps and aprons or flat caps and waistcoats, sit at the old desks (which we still had in my primary school – very practical they are too) and play with the interactive exhibits. The nutmeg in the smellobox bit needs replacing, and the feathers in one of the feely-boxes are suspiciously metallic, but otherwise there are lots of things to grab and lift and engage your mind.

Photo taken in a brief break from selling matches.

At the end of the demo lesson, the teacher asked for any questions, and one kid asked ‘can we come again?’ I don’t think any museum could hope for higher praise.

More photos.

The Ragged School Museum: Gazunders, Canes, and Addictive Balls.

Location: Copperfield Rd, Mile End, E3 4RR.

Type of Museum: Local History/Social History.

Admission times/prices: 10am to 5pm Wednesdays and Thursdays, and 2pm and 5pm on the first Sunday of each month. Free, with £2 per person donation suggested for the demo lesson.

Facilities: Small but tempting shop.

Transport: Tube: Mile End. Train/DLR: Limehouse. Buses: 277, 309, 323, 339, D6, D7 and 25.

The main bit(s).

We came to this museum because the puppy ate my daughter’s glasses. Not that the Ragged School offers spectacle-repairing facilities – it’s near to one of the few opticians open on a Sunday.

There was no doubt that we were going to visit at some point anyway. We’ve been numerous times before, and my daughter actually remembers visiting, which is a sign that she really enjoyed it. One time I brought a group of adult EFL students and ended up doing an impromptu Victorian school room demonstration, complete with dunce caps and canes. The museum is interactive enough that even those students with lower-level English got a lot out of it.

Today, however, was a Sunday so the proper Victorian schoolteacher was teaching us and I got to be a giggling pupil this time. I was impressed by how into it all the pupils were – adults and kids both: the instant the teacher entered the room, everyone sat up straighter, saying ‘shh!’ It only took a mention of elbows off the desk for everyone to immediately move their hands to their laps. I’m sure there would have been volunteers for caning if she’d asked.

Sat in separate girls and boys sections, we had palm inspection, the register (the kids’ names actually would have fit in well in Victorian London), and morning prayer, then chanted proverbs while the monitors handed out slates, pencils and authentically-knackered cleaners. An adult should not feel proud of being able to write the alphabet neatly and subtract large numbers, but, well, I did; I blame the eager-to-please atmosphere.

Upstairs, another volunteer tells lively stories about Victorian home life, stood in a model Victorian poor person’s kitchen. Well, a relatively poor person’s kitchen – the underclass of the time often lived in just one room with rotas for beds let alone kitchen tables. The volunteer focuses on the gruesome bits of history, such as accidentally stepping on a gazunder and wiping your foot on your sister’s dress. Kids and grown-ups alike laugh.

All the volunteers are lovely. The little museum was so popular today that they could probably have done with yet another person to man the ticket desk for the classroom demonstration, but aside from that, we were impressed; of the main volunteer downstairs, Bryn, my daughter said that he was nice and makes the museum more interesting than the others. This is a little unfair on the many other museums I’ve visited that have great volunteer guides, but you can always tell when the guide loves their subject rather than just knows a lot about it.

The extra bits.

Usually this section is about temporary exhibitions; everything here is permanent, but the local history section might not have been what you were looking for when you came here. There’s a lot of local history to pack in, of course, even when focusing on the poor; factories an local industry, the docks, faith, and culture – for example, the genesis cinema used to be a variety hall, where the usherette took home the discarded programmes and ironed them to resell the next day. Poverty-inspired recycling.

Here is also a lot about the history of the Ragged Schools. This one was set up by Dr Barnardo, formerly mentioned in the Royal London Hospital Museum post, and was slightly different to a lot of the other Ragged Schools of the time. You can probably guess that the name came from the raged clothes the kids wore, but many of the schools insisted on standards of cleanliness and pristine appearance that poorest kids, with no running water and one sink per street, simply couldn’t live up to.

Even girls were allowed to study here, though far fewer came because they were expected to stay at home and look after the house and their siblings. Interestingly, the girls found it a lot easier to get work (in the factories or as servants) than the boys did; there were lots of jobs, but there were also lots and lots of people. The same, of course, is happening in many areas of the country today.

It is a little disturbing how often the Victorian sections of these museums feel like they could have been written today.

The bits where you end up spending money.

The shop is very small but sells many of those little knick-knacks that you get tempted by and suddenly you’ve spent a tenner. Downstairs is a small café – no hot food, at least not at this time of year – and in the Summer it has seating outside by the canal.

Stuff for kids and people who act like them.

The museum is geared up for exactly these sorts of people. Apart from the talks and demonstrations, you can dress up in mob caps and aprons or flat caps and waistcoats, sit at the old desks (which we still had in my primary school – very practical they are too) and play with the interactive exhibits. The nutmeg in the smellobox bit needs replacing, and the feathers in one of the feely-boxes are suspiciously metallic, but otherwise there are lots of things to grab and lift and engage your mind.

At the end of the demo lesson, the teacher asked for any questions, and one kid asked ‘can we come again?’ I don’t think any museum could hope for higher praise.

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Explore museums from your sofa.


Explore museums just like on Streetview, only better.

Click on the doorway to go from room to room and you’re dragged forward in what looks like a special effect from an 80s scifi series. Very cool.

Hopefully they’ll have more museums up soon; perhaps I can do some of them?

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