On Thursday 18 April we celebrate the International Day for Monuments and Sites or World Heritage Day as it is better known, a day set aside to celebrate the joint history and heritage of the human race.

Much is said about the services offered by St John and the incredible personnel who work there, but for today, we look at two of the buildings we are fortunate enough to inhabit around the countryside. An organisation as old as St John – and remember we date back nearly 1000 years – is bound to have some remarkable treasures and historically-rich real estate around the globe.

For serious history buffs – there is a comprehensive Museum of the Order of St John in Clerkenwell, London. For all of us based here, we may not get to see the 60 000 artefacts on display, but there are some great online videos to watch to get a sense of the extraordinary heritage of the Order of St John.

Closer to home, let’s take a moment to appreciate our special spaces. In Durban St John operates out of a re-purposed theatre – an imposing, distinctive corner building in the city centre, on KE Masinga / Old Fort Road – offering various interesting architectural conversations with its neighbours. Directly across the road is the Old Fort, Warriors Gate and museum of military history, and a rare city green lung in the form of a spacious tree-lined public garden; the various city services buildings of vastly differing, mostly bland and dated architectural styles all around it; and the impressive green-pillared former native administration offices, now the KwaMuhle museum of apartheid-era artefacts across from St John’s ambulance bay doors.

Understanding that it used to be a theatre, it’s fun doing a walk through the building imagining the opening night applause, sparkling lights and greasepaint. The theatre foyer is now the eye care clinic, the box-office and front of house is the reception area and management offices; the 400-seat theatre auditorium has been subdivided into training rooms; and the stage is now a large all-purpose meeting room – you can still see the outline of the proscenium arch on the wall! The green rooms and dressing rooms are still intact – some used as staff quarters, and some as storage. 

In the theatre basement, under the stage, local charity the Denis Hurley Centre’s Street Lit project for homeless men and women store their books. If you look up above the psychology and philosophy books, you can still see the trap door where Tinkerbell ascended during the pantos!  


A Sir Herbert Baker darling – often referred to as the ‘Jewel of Westcliff’ – is where the head office of St John is located in Johannesburg.  

Glenshiel is surrounded by seven acres of beautiful gardens – in its day home to the very rare and impressive leucistic (white) peacocks – and is a real hidden gem.

Once home to both the Dalrymple family and later the Haggie family, Glenshiel is one of Johannesburg’s much loved and honoured great historic homes.

Glenshiel is the last large home that Baker built in Johannesburg and is considered the most interesting. Although essentially an H-shaped plan, the building has a certain drama because its wings are splayed at a 45 degree angle creating an unusual butterfly effect.

The theatre analogy continues as the home was built for social butterfly, Lady Isabel Dalrymple – an actress who came to Johannesburg in 1895 as a member of the D’Oyley Carte Opera Company. It was here that she met her husband, Sir William, a popular mining magnate. The couple were well known and liked during the colourful early days of Johannesburg.

The Dalrymples’ entertained a great deal, and they were most supportive of local charities and organisations. There was hardly a notable visitor to South Africa who was not entertained at Glenshiel by the Dalrymples.

After the death of Sir William, Glenshiel and its surrounding gardens were subdivided and sold. In 1943 the house, stables and seven acres of land were sold to Major Gordon Haggie who immediately loaned it to St John Ambulance to use as an auxiliary military hospital for convalescent orthopaedic patients during World War 2. The staff generally consisted of voluntary aid detachments and members of the St John Ambulance Association.

The former drawing room was used as the main ward and bars were put around the walls to protect the beautiful wooden panels from the movement of the beds. There were also beds out on the terrace under the protection of the north verandah. As it was an orthopaedic hospital, there were many wheelchairs and ramps that had to be provided. Facilities also had to be arranged for the arrival of ambulance cases, and one room in the house was set aside for occupational therapy. In fact, many of the patients became expert craftsmen and at the National Eisteddfod in 1945, Glenshiel won many awards for articles exhibited in the military arts and crafts section.

Major and Mrs Haggie lived in a converted stable on the grounds, and by all accounts, were very hands-on in the running of the establishment, and in the rehabilitation of its patients.


On the 26 March 1946, the St John Flag was ceremoniously lowered at Glenshiel and the last of the eleven St John Ambulance Auxiliary Military Hospitals was closed. Altogether 2 500 soldiers convalesced at Glenshiel.

In 1950 Major Haggie retired and returned to England. Glenshiel, under the auspices of the Haggie Trust, was lent in perpetuity to the Order of St John to be used as the National Headquarters of the Priory for South Africa of the Order of St John. Thus, Glenshiel became the first permanent Priory Headquarters and therefore the focal point of all St John activities throughout the years.

On 9 March 1979, the whole of the Glenshiel Estate was declared a National Monument.