Earlier this fall my husband and I traveled to London for vacation. One of my sightseeing must-do’s in London was to tour 36 Craven Street, the only surviving residence of Benjamin Franklin, one of the United States’ Founding Fathers.
Part of the reason I wanted to see this home was because I’m teaching a high school literature class this fall, and we were reading Ben Franklin’s autobiography the same month I was in London.
Franklin was born in Boston in 1706 and moved to Philadelphia when still a kid. Although, he lived in Philadelphia most of the rest of his life, he lived in London for a short time as a young man learning more about the printing trade; in London from 1757-75 as the representative of several of the American colonies’ to the British government in London; and then later during the American Revolution when he represented the Americans’ interests to the French in Paris.
When Franklin arrived in Britain in 1757, he thought he’d be there for less than a year. However, he stayed until 1775 trying to broker some sort of peace between the American colonies and Britain.
Although he wasn’t successful in bringing peace, he did make lots of friends, conducted scientific experiments, and wrote many letters and articles.
During most of his pre-Revolution time in London, he rented his lodging from Margaret Stevenson 36 Craven Street, and this home became the unofficial first American embassy in Britain.
After Franklin went back to Philadelphia, the house continued as a boarding house, and later a hotel and office space. By the time The Friends of Benjamin Franklin House obtained the house about twenty years or so ago, it had even been lived in by squatters. This cloud had a silver lining because the squatters didn’t destroy the house, nor did they do any remodeling, so many of the house’s architectural features of Franklin’s time were still there.
The house was originally built in about 1730, and it’s located between the Thames River and Trafalgar Square.
Now visitors can tour the house, noting its architecture, or they can participate in a multi-media historical experience that focuses on Franklin’s time in London and connections with the house.
An interesting story is that when the home was obtained by the preservationists, human bones were found in what would have been the back garden while Franklin lived there. Archaeologists were brought in, and they determined that these remains were from the private anatomy school run by Mrs. Stevenson’s son-in-law.
I enjoyed the tour! It was interesting to walk in the same rooms Franklin did, and intriguing to think this small home housed him, Mrs. Stevenson and her extended family, as well as servants. It’s a simple home, yet Franklin was such a multi-faceted person. He was interested in science, business, music, literature, politics, and medicine.
For more information, see Benjamin Franklin House.
What was the latest place you visited that had a historical connection? What do historic homes reveal about the personalities of historic people? Have you ever been to 36 Craven Street? What do you know about Benjamin Franklin?
In honor of Presidents’ Day, check out these five picture books about some of our presidents:
John, Paul, George & Ben by Lane Smith (Disney-Hyperion Books, 2006)—very funny look at George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, as well as John Hancock, Paul Revere, and Benjamin Franklin.
Camping With the President by Ginger Wadsworth and illustrated by Karen Dugan (Calkins Creek, 2009)—about a camping trip President Theodore Roosevelt took with John Muir.
Worst of Friends: Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and the True Story of an American Feud by Suzanne Tripp Jurmain and illustrated by Larry Day (Dutton Children’s Books, 2011)—about Jefferson’s and Adam’s friendship and how they worked together to found our nation, and how their differing opinions led them to not talking for many years, and then the renewal of their friendship.
George Washington’s Teeth by Deborah Chandra and Madeleine Comora and illustrated by Brock Cole (Farrar Straus Giroux, 2003)—At the same time Washington was fighting for and building his nation, he also fought a losing battle with his teeth.
Farmer George Plants a Nation by Peggy Thomas and illustrated by Layne Johnson (Calkins Creek, 2008)—showcases Washington’s constant farming experiments and innovations at Mount Vernon.