St John’s Wood History
St. John’s Wood was once part of the Great Forest of Middlesex.
The name derives from its mediaeval owners, the Knights of the
Order of St John of Jerusalem (Knights Hospitallers), an Augustinian
order, which took over the land from the Knights Templar in 1323.
After the Reformation and the Dissolution of monastic orders, St
John’s Wood became Crown land, and Henry VIII established
Royal Hunting Grounds in what became known as Marylebone Park,
to the north of which lay St John’s Wood. Apart from short
periods during the reign of Mary Tudor and Cromwell’s Protectorate
(when most of the trees were felled, none of which could have happened
if the Society had then existed), the area known as The St John’s
Wood Estate remained Crown land until 1688.
Until the end of the
eighteenth century, when plans for residential development first
appeared, the area remained in agricultural use.
Apart from a small piece of land, around Barrow Hill, which was
owned by the Portland Estate, most of St John’s Wood had
been acquired in 1732 by the Eyre family. A second, smaller estate,
lying alongside the Edgware Road, had been acquired by John Lyon
in 1574: the estate was later bequeathed by him to his foundation,
Harrow School, on trust to maintain the roads between London and
Harrow in good repair.
Building began in 1809 in Alpha Road, on
the southern boundary of St John’s Wood, (these villas have
long since gone with the advent of the railway in 1894) and rapidly
spread over the
two estates. It was a unique pattern of development: as the renowned
architectural historian, Sir John Summerson wrote: “It was
the first part of London, and indeed of any other town, to abandon
the terrace house for the semi-detached villa – a revolution
of striking significance and far-reaching effect”. The comparatively
inexpensive Italianate villas, Cottages Ornés and Victorian
Gothic pairs, surrounded by large gardens and tree-lined avenues,
attracted many who valued the charm of living in rural calm so
close to the city. Many artists, authors, philosophers and scientists
made their homes in St John’s Wood throughout the nineteenth
century. They were joined by craftsmen and merchants, who gave
to St John’s Wood its village atmosphere, which survives
to this day.
Although many of the original houses and gardens disappeared
during the twentieth century, through bomb damage and the building
new roads, railways, blocks of flats, hospitals, schools, much
of the original character of the area remains. In the 1960s,
most of St John’s Wood was designated a Conservation Area and
its houses listed by English Heritage. In 1814, Lord’s cricket
ground moved to its present site and St. John’s Church was
consecrated. In 1825, the Riding School, now part of the Royal
Horse Artillery Barracks, was completed, and in 1836, St Marylebone
Almshouses were built (re-built on the same site in 1965), and
the Roman Catholic Church of Our Lady. In 1847 St. Mark’s
Church, Hamilton Terrace was consecrated. All of these historical
features are still prominent in the life of St John’s Wood
today, and together with more recent developments, such as Abbey
Road Studios and the Central London Mosque, continue to give St
John’s Wood its unique character.