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Historic House Museum

Spotlight on… Benjamin Franklin House

Spotlight on… Benjamin Franklin House, a Grade I listed Georgian townhouse located in Charing Cross and lodgings for Franklin – the scientist, diplomat, philosopher and Founding Father of the Unites States – for nearly sixteen years between 1757 and 1775. The house is normally operational seven days a week offering a Historical Experience utilising the building, a live actress in period dress, projection and sound, as well as Architectural Tours, and an active schools programme. However the current pandemic resulted in its temporary closure, but the aptly timed ease in UK government restrictions from 4 July (US Independence Day) meant that they could responsibly re-open this weekend for Architectural Tours, and will do again from Friday 10 July onwards with the hope of re-starting the Historical Experience later in the summer. There are also plenty of virtual offerings to keep you going in the meantime, including online tours of the building using Googlemaps and viewing some of their collection digitally, including Franklin’s leather wallet shaped like an envelope and inscribed with this London address, as well as letters and newspapers of the era. There are a series of virtual talks available via their YouTube channel covering topics from ‘Character Virtues for the 21st Century’ to ‘Reflecting on the US Primaries’ and the ‘Joys of 18th Century Cooking’, with upcoming talks in July on coffeehouses and private bankers in Franklin’s London. Every Tuesday at 3pm they are offering live online science classes for children, based on Franklin’s own experiments around electricity, energy, forces, and light. These lessons also explore sound via the Glass Armonica, a musical instrument invented by Franklin using glass bowls of varied circumferences and played similarly to a piano. Their website also gives you the opportunity to learn more about the bones discovered when conservation work began on the building in 1998, which are remnants of an anatomy school run from the house by the son in law of Franklin’s landlady in the 1700’s. This unassuming house down a cobbled side street is brimming with history and an array of characters, stories and activity – and its’ website is equally as compelling to explore.

Image: Benjamin Franklin’s Parlour © Benjamin Franklin House

Categories
Historic House

The Historical Experience: Benjamin Franklin House

A narrow Georgian townhouse at the back of Charing Cross train station has been standing since 1730, provided lodgings for Benjamin Franklin (face on the $100 bill, Founding Father of the United States, scientist, diplomat, inventor of unusual musical instruments and more!) for sixteen years between 1757 and 1775, and has been a museum since 2006. To enter, visitors ring the doorbell much like you are paying a visit to someone’s home, are led along a corridor of original wooden floorboards and panelling, and down the stairs to the basement where the ‘Historical Experience’ begins… a small orientation room comprising information boards, an artefact display cabinet, and even human remains from the anatomy school which also operated from the building help introduce you to the House. After a short video, Polly (the landlady’s daughter and close friend of Franklin whilst he was lodging at the House) leads visitors to the Kitchen where flagstone flooring, a Victorian cooking stove, and views of the sunken basements are cleverly integrated with projections and voices that Polly continues to interact with throughout the House to help tell its’ stories. Visitors are then led upstairs to the Landlady’s Parlour, Card Room and finally Franklin’s Parlour – all complete with authentic features from the floorboards, to the shutters on the windows, marble fireplaces, and even the green paint on the walls specially mixed to match flecks of the original paint revealed through spectro-analysis. Typically I find costumed interpretation horribly uncomfortable, however it is immediately obvious that this House employs a professional actress and provides a theatrical ‘experience’ executed to a high standard. Likewise, the fact that it is largely unfurnished lends itself to this type of visitor offering, and it was refreshing to focus on the original features rather than trying to navigate your way through a cluttered house full of replica furnishings.

For more information visit their website