A few weeks ago, I was lucky enough to take an architectural tour around the Benjamin Franklin House in Craven Street. A delicious little Georgian townhouse hidden off the Strand, it is full of wonderful period features.
I have to admit, I knew very little about Franklin before attending the tour. Obviously I knew about his experiment with lightning and his involvement with the Declaration of Independence, but that was about the sum of my knowledge. The visit really piqued my interest; Franklin was a man at the center of diplomacy who lived through an astonishing time. Part spy, part scientist, diplomat, inventor and philosopher, he was a fascinating man. Franklin lived in London for nearly sixteen years in his role as Postmaster for American, returning home in 1775 with the outbreak of the Revolutionary War. Sadly, his Craven Street house is the last of his residences to survive.
I have visited many Grade II listed buildings, but Benjamin Franklin House tops the bill at Grade I – a place of exceptional interest to our heritage. The restoration project completed to bring the house up to its present condition was a huge undertaking. Fortunately for us, lots of love and devotion have rescued the place from dereliction and you can now see a genuine example of an everyday Georgian townhouse.
I say ‘everyday’ – in fact, it seems 36 Craven Street was far from ordinary! Not only did you have Franklin lodging there with his experiments and important dinners, but there was an anatomy school running downstairs. A collection of bones found during conservation were on display, from where the school had practiced cutting up bodies – either obtained from the gallows or the resurrection men! I rather feel for the poor landlady, Margaret Stevenson, with such strange lodgers, but it seems she rather enjoyed her eccentric household.
One of my favourite parts of the tour was a chance to play Franklin’s famous glass armonica. You can get some seriously spooky sounds from this instrument, but also great music – Mozart and Beethoven both composed pieces for it. My musical skills were sadly lacking – still, I had fun!
Hopefully I will be returning to Benjamin Franklin House later this year to take part in their Historical Experience. Through this attraction, the house is brought to life in its Georgian splendour. Actors read excerpts from Franklin’s writing and recreate every day scenes from the house. Using light projectors, the interior is returned to something like its original decoration, immersing you in the smells, sights and sounds of the era. I can’t wait!
You can find out more about Benjamin Franklin House here.