What’s in a name?…St John’s Wood

March 26, 2012

This well-to-do area in London’s north-west, just outside Regent’s Park, takes its name from the historic ownership of land here by the Order of St John of Jerusalem (also known as the Knights Hospitaller).

The land had previously been part of the Great Forest of Middlesex. The Order of St John of Jerusalem, which since 1140s had its English headquarters in a Clerkenwell priory where St John’s Gate stands (this now houses the Museum of the Order of St John – see our previous entry here), took over ownership of land in the early 1300s after the previous owners, the Knights Templar, fell into disgrace.

Following the Dissolution, it became Crown land and remained so until 1688 after which it passed into the hands of private families, notably the Eyre family who owned much of the area.

It remained relatively undeveloped until the early 19th century when, following the introduction of semi-detached villas on planned estates, it was marketed as a residential alternative for London’s middle classes, away from the smog and congestion of central London.

It became favored by the bohemian set and residents included creative types like artists and authors as well as scientists and traditional craftsmen (apparently in the late 19th century it was also known for its upmarket brothels).

Rebuilt with swanky apartment complexes in the early twentieth century, these days it remains a leafy enclave for the wealthy. Many of the houses which have survived are heritage listed.

Landmarks include St John’s Church (pictured above, this was consecrated in 1814) and the St John’s Wood Barracks and a Riding School (this was completed in 1825 and is the oldest building still on the site) which is now home to the King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery which carries out mounted ceremonial artillery duties such as firing royal salutes for the State Opening of Parliament, royal birthdays and state visits.

St John’s Wood is also home to Abbey Road Studios (home of the Beatles and that famous zebra crossing), Lord’s Cricket Ground (officially the home of the Marylebone Cricket Club which was moved here in 1814, the same year the church was consecrated) and the Central London Mosque located on the edge of Regent’s Park.

For more on St John’s Wood, take a look at the website of The St John’s Wood Society.

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2 Responses to “What’s in a name?…St John’s Wood”


  1. My understanding is that Bedford Park was developed significantly later – the late 1800s – and was cohesively planned as a garden suburb. The big deal about St John’s Wood, which was made up of several estates was its semi-detached villas – this was one of the first suburbs to move away from the tighter terrace housing. I guess Bedford Park with larger houses and trees was the next step forward in that regard.

  2. artandarchitecturemainly Says:

    I love that part of London – to live there if one can afford it, otherwise to visit friends and events.

    You say that following the introduction of semi-detached villas on planned estates, it was marketed as a clean and pleasant residential alternative for London’s middle classes. I am very familiar with Garden Suburbs a la Sir Ebenezer Howard, but somehow St John’s Wood always seems classier than Bedford Park etc. What was the difference?

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