|Administrative / biographical background:
St John House was founded in 1848 as a 'Training Institution for Nurses for Hospitals, Families and the Poor'. It was a religious community run by a Master, who was a clergyman, and a Lady Superintendent. The aim was to improve the qualifications and raise the character of nurses by providing moral and religious instruction. There were three classes of members:-
The Institution opened at 36 Fitzroy Square, St Pancras, and was named St John's House because it was in the parish of St John the Evangelist. In 1852 it moved to 5 Queen Square, Westminster, and in 1859 to 6, 7 and 8 Norfolk Street, Strand. It remained in these premises until 1907 when a new house was built at 12 Queen Square, Bloomsbury. The chapel from Norfolk Street was re-erected in this building.
In 1854 six nurses from the institution went out to the Crimea with Florence Nightingale, since St John's House was at that time one of the few sources for trained nurses. In 1856 the Sisters took over the nursing of King's College Hospital and from 1862 to 1868 a six-month training in midwifery nursing was given there, with the help of a grant from the newly founded Nightingale Fund Council. The 1860s saw a further expansion of work. In 1865 the nursing of the Galignani Hospital, Paris, was undertaken, and in 1866 Charing Cross Hospital. In 1877 a St John's House Maternity Home was opened at Cheyne Walk, Chelsea, later moving to Queen Anne Terrace, Battersea in 1883.
Difficulties arose, however, from an early date, over the organisation of the house, and there was considerable dissension between the Master and the Lady Superintendent. Although the rules were changed in 1865, the Master being renamed Chaplain, and the Lady Superintendent renamed Lady Superior, there was no basic change of organisation. The crisis came in 1867 when the Lady Superior and six Sisters resigned on the rejection of their nominee for Chaplain.
The arrangements of the nursing at King's College Hospital also provoked considerable conflict. A bitter disagreement in 1874 was patched up but there was further trouble in 1883. This time, the quarrel between the Sister-Matron and the Medical Staff led to the resignation of all the Sisters and most of the nurses of St John's House. They remained together, however, and founded the Community of Nursing Sisters of St John the Divine, which continues to work today in Hastings and Poplar. The Council of St John's House recruited new staff and the nursing service for King's College and Charing Cross Hospitals was maintained.
In 1886 the Community of All Saints took over the entire management of St John's House, until 1892 when the Community of St Peter's, Kilburn, took over. There were increasing difficulties of recruitment, however, and as hospitals began to undertake the organisation and training of their own nursing staff, St John's House withdrew from many of its commitments. In 1911 the superintendence of the House was taken up by the Community of St Margaret's, East Grinstead.
Finally the Institution was given to St Thomas' Hospital and was renamed St John's and St Thomas's House. Two Sisters from the Hospital took charge in April 1919 although the agreement was not completed until May 1920. The house was used as a centre for nurses who had been trained at St Thomas' Hospital and who wished to take up private nursing. Many of the St John's House nurses stayed on under this arrangement.