Benjamin Franklin; scientist, diplomat, philosopher, inventor and founding father of the United States of American lived in London for just over 15 years. The house he lodged in is the only one of his residences to still be standing anywhere. It nestles just below Charing Cross station in Craven Street. Twenty years ago it was derelict and in danger of destruction.
36 Craven Street was built in around 1730. Nearly thirty years later Benjamin Franklin arrived to negotiate peace between the American colonies and London and became a lodger here. Although these are the rooms, fireplaces and shutters that he would have known, nothing remains of the furnishings of the time. No attempt has been made to set-dress the rooms as they might have been, rather there are a few sparse items of furniture. You can take two types of tour; an architectural one that focuses on the building or an historical experience where a costumed guide takes you round the house interacting with a fancy multimedia show as she goes. We opted for the latter.
Our tour started with a short film about the life and times of Benjamin Franklin shown in the basement. Also on display is a macabre display of bones that were dug up from the site, thought to have been left over from the anatomy school that also occupied the house at the time. One of the many ideas that Franklin came up with were bifocal glasses, a replica pair can be seen. As the lights go up our guide suddenly appeared from behind us and led us through the upper rooms, seeming to talk to Mr Franklin as she went.
Objects that Franklin actually touched are absent from the house but it doesn’t matter. To be in the very beautiful sparsely furnished rooms hearing the story of his time in London skillfully told is really interesting. What amazed me was how small the rooms were given that he was a man of status. Craven Street is just around the corner from Trafalgar Square which makes a fine venue for a picnic.
BENJAMIN FRANKLIN HOUSE
36 Craven Street, London WC2N 5NF
Historical Experience Tours: Wednesday-Sunday 12 noon, 1pm, 3.15pm and 4.15pm
Adults £8, children under 16 free
Architectural Tours: Monday 12 noon, 1pm, 3.15pm and 4.15pm
Adults £4, children under 16 free
Book tickets in advance