Queen Victoria’s Order

Museum of the Order of St John Jessica Swift, Museum assistant

In the early 1860s, John Furley and some other Victorian men wanted to revive the Order of St John in England. Inspired by the suggestion of an organisation to be called the Red Cross at the Geneva convention of 1864, Furley and his friends wanted to do work which would reflect the Order’s core beliefs of Faith, Care and Valour. When the Red Cross was founded in Britain in 1870, under the patronage of Queen Victoria, many of the members were also members of the Order of St John.

Over the next few years, the Order grew. In 1874 St John’s Gate was privately purchased and returned to its former status as the headquarters for the Order in England.In 1879 the first ambulance corps was created in Margate, and from there the order continued to flourish. In 1883, Queen Victoria donated £25 to The Order of St John, equivalent to almost £3000 in today’s money. This generous donation was made again in 1885, and Queen Victoria would have seen public support for the Order and their Ambulance work growing rapidly.

In 1887 Queen Victoria celebrated her Golden Jubilee, and St John Ambulance attended as their first official public duty. 50 volunteers attended to the thousands in the crowd lining the parade of Queen Victoria’s Carriage. In the following year, 1888, Queen Victoria granted the Order a royal charter, making three key changes: the Order became an official national organisation; its title became ‘the venerable Order of St John’ and the royal lions and unicorns were added to the eight-pointed cross as the symbol for the Order. Additionally, the Queen became the Sovereign Head, and her son and heir Edward Prince of Wales became Grand Prior.

The popularity of the Order continued to grow, and in 1890 the first Ambulance services were introduced to London and the Order became more widespread nationally. In 1893, parades and demonstrations were held in Windsor Great Park for the entertainment and instruction of Queen Victoria and over one-thousand spectators.

Ten years after the granting of the charter, Queen Victoria celebrated her Diamond Jubilee, and became the longest reigning monarch in British history. In celebration of this, alongside their royal duties on the day, the first fetes were held, where brigades would compete in competitions and demonstrations.

In 1899 the first Service Medals were awarded. These showed a portrait of Queen Victoria on one side and were awarded to those who had performed distinguished services or served honourably and efficiently for a period of 15 years. These medals are still awarded today, and still feature Queen Victoria’s portrait.

In 1901, Queen Victoria’s last telegram to a public body was sent to St John Ambulance to thank them for their work, before she died on the 22nd of January that year. Her funeral was just as large an affair as her Jubilee had been, and once again St John Ambulance were on duty during the event. This was their last official royal duty for Queen Victoria herself, the person who, it can be argued, legitimised and helped to popularise the Order and its great work in the UK.



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