During the 19th century there were many dangerous workplaces. Conditions and machinery were hazardous and workers were exhausted by the long hours. Accidents were frequent but workers rarely saw a doctor in time. Death or disability from untreated injuries was common.
Members of the British Order wanted to find a way to help. They decided to train ordinary people in first aid so accident victims could be treated quickly and on the spot, and in 1877 they set up St John Ambulance to do this. Classes were set up across the country, particularly in workplaces and areas of heavy industry, but also in villages, seaside towns and middle class suburbs.
In 1887 trained volunteers were organised into a uniformed Brigade to provide a first aid and ambulance service at public events. In many parts of Britain, St John was the first and only provider of an ambulance service right up to the middle of the 20th century, when the National Health Service was founded. When there were far fewer doctors and hospital beds than today, St John nurses looked after the sick and injured in their own home.
The Most Venerable Order of the Hospital of St John of Jerusalem was incorporated by Royal Charter of Queen Victoria in 1888. It is generally given in recognition of voluntary work in hospitals, ambulance and relief work. It has undergone many changes and is now divided into six classes under the Sovereign and Grand Prior of the Order. The Order was presented to Florence Nightingale in 1904 (c).