St John's Hospital for Diseases of the Skin was founded in London in 1868, supported by voluntary contributions. Its patron was Lord Chesterfield, whose name is still associated with the Chesterfield Gold Medal awarded to outstanding postgraduate diplomates of St John's.
The founder of St John's was John Laws Milton (left), by all accounts a colourful and controversial surgeon. He was alleged to have abused his position by holding a lucrative clinic in St John's for the treatment of the dubious clinical entity, “spermatorrhoea”, thereby arousing the ire of the medical establishment via vituperative correspondence in The Lancet. Despite several resignations and re-appointments, Milton survived as director for many years and was the first to describe mucocutaneous angioedema (“angioneurotic oedema”).
During the early 20th century, the hospital overcame a series of financial crises in several different locations in the Soho area of London, finding itself after World War 2 in elegant out-patient premises in Lisle St, Leicester Square (right) with 50 bedded in-patient facilities in part of the disused Eastern Fever Hospital in Homerton, east London. At this time, St John's consisted of two administratively distinct but closely associated components: the St John's Hospital for Diseases of the Skin with its own board of governors answerable directly to the Minister of Health and the Institute of Dermatology, financed via the Postgraduate Medical Federation by the University of London.
Following Lord Flowers' report in the early 1980s which advised the Government to amalgamate smaller postgraduate institutes and their associated hospitals, St John's relocated to St Thomas' Hospital in the mid-1980s. Soon after, St John's was formally renamed “St John's Institute of Dermatology” to include both the St John's Hospital and the Institute.
In recognition of its new status as a component Institute of the Postgraduate Medical Federation, the University of London established its first Chair of Dermatology at St John's Institute. In 1961, the first occupant, CD Calnan, was appointed. He established St John's as an internationally recognised centre of clinical excellence and appointed an academic faculty which included JL Turk, who pinpointed the role of lymphocytes of the regional lymph nodes in the development of cutaneous contact sensitisation, and IA Magnus.
Magnus with Rimington defined the inborn error of metabolism erythropoietic protoporphyria and pioneered the development of the world's first prism and diffraction grating monochromators, enabling accurate definition of the action spectrum for a variety of photodermatoses. Calnan also set up the world-renowned University of London Dermatology diploma course. His successor, MW Greaves extended and developed research facilities at St John's, obtaining several major programme grants from the MRC and the Wellcome Trust to build new laboratories at Homerton (right), including a mass spectrometry unit for research into the molecular pharmacology of inflammation – work which continues at St John's up to the present time.
Upon Greaves' retirement in 1999, the new occupant of the Chair was Jonathan Barker until August 2018 when Professor John McGrath became Head of the Institute. The academic laboratories of St John's Institute of Dermatology moved into state-of-the-art new facilities at Guy's Hospital in April 2007. Research now focuses on four main areas: genetics, photobiology, immuno-dermatology and oncology.