St John's House, Warwick

St John's House, Warwick. 2022
Image courtesy of Benjamin Earl

A potted early history

The origins of St John’s were in the mid to late 1100s, when it was originally a sprawling medieval hospital. Its position on the eastern edge of Warwick meant it provided refreshments for travellers, and for the local poor or unwell. In the late 1530s came King Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the monasteries. Religious houses were stripped of their wealth and the money was redistributed amongst Henry’s supporters. In 1540 Henry VIII gave St John’s to Anthony Stoughton. Anthony was a servant of Queen Katherine Howard. Anthony’s grandson (also called Anthony) was an MP of Warwick. He rebuilt   St John’s House with his wife, Dorothy.

Lots of cats

Anthony’s son Nathaniel was a High Sheriff of Warwickshire, no less. He rebuilt St John’s again in around 1667, to the building of today. Nathaniel’s son George had seven children. The eldest daughter, Eugenia, inherited St John’s. Eugenia was said to sleep in a chair and wear clothes that were ‘dirty and unseemly’. She also had lots of cats. Eugenia lived at St John’s for some years, with the house eventually inherited by her son James.

The next generation decided to cut their losses, and the house was sold in 1788.

Becoming a school

From 1791 St John’s became a school. Over the years, boys and girls who could afford it would have learned a variety of lessons here, including the ‘three R’s’ – Reading, Writing and Arithmetic. Classes were silent and teachers much stricter, with learning by heart and by repetition very important. Fast forward to over a hundred years later and the final school bell was rung in 1900 – the school had gone bankrupt.

In the 20th century, St John’s became many other things. It went on to house a War Department record office, a branch of the Warwickshire Museum – displaying social history and costume, and also The Royal Fusiliers Museum (now on Jury Street). St John’s House continues to welcome thousands of visitors a year – from school children to wedding parties.

A roadside status symbol

Our building today, c1670, is Grade One listed. The ground floor and first floor would have held the grand rooms originally used by the family. The smaller windows in the attic show where the servants would have slept. The house is made from the appropriately named ‘Warwick stone’ (sandstone). It isn’t the toughest of materials, but it was impressing visitors that counted – and St John’s still does that today.

More from Warwick