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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 Museum

Spotlight on… Charles Dickens Museum

Spotlight on… Charles Dickens Museum, a Victorian townhouse in Bloomsbury and former family home of Dickens where he penned classics including Oliver Twist, Nicholas Nickleby and Pickwick Papers. Typically open to the public it offers an insight into the private life of the author; his study, dining room, family bedrooms and serving quarters as well as a display space for the collection, a courtyard garden and café. The current pandemic and its’ temporary closure has meant that the museum has lost almost all of its income, but visit their website and you can still delve into the collection and go behind the scenes whilst the doors are closed. An interactive tour gives you a 360 degree view of each room in the entire building, and the opportunity to explore privately and have the space to yourself. At the end of April, they launched their Collections Online site giving virtual access to furniture, paintings, photographs, letters, manuscripts, rare editions and Dickens memorabilia such as a 1968 handmade doll of Miss Havisham from Great Expectations and a ceramic and textile pin cushion of Mr Pickwick circa 1900. On Instagram Dickens’ great great great grandchildren have been reading extracts from his novels, including a fitting passage about a smallpox epidemic and quarantine in Bleak House. Their online newsletter also keeps you informed with teasers about their upcoming temporary exhibition due to open once restrictions are lifted, named Technicolour Dickens: The Living Image of Charles Dickens which will feature images of the author throughout his career as well as clothing, personal items, and a selection of original photographs from their collection which have undergone colourisation. Purchases from their aptly titled ‘Old Curiosity Shop’ are still available online, with jigsaw puzzles, tote bags, books and mugs all based around his famous novels for sale – items arguably more sought after than ever during the lockdown!

Image: Study Newangle, Copyright, Charles Dickens Museum