benjamin franklin house in london craven street

The Benjamin Franklin House in London

by Michael on September 29, 2013

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In 1757, Benjamin Franklin left his hometown of Philadelphia for a move to England, where he represented the diplomatic interests of the American colonies. His stay turned into a nearly 16 year London sojourn as he mediated disputes between Parliament and the increasingly restless colonies.

Franklin rented a single room in a circa 1730 Georgian townhome at 36 Craven Street. The Benjamin Franklin house in London was renovated and opened to the public in 2006; coinciding with the 300th anniversary of his birth. It’s the only house Franklin ever lived in that’s still standing.

benjamin franklin house london

Most of the woodwork, windows and floors in the house are original. Visitors even use the same central staircase that Franklin climbed up and down as part of his exercise routine. Prime Minister William Pitt met Franklin here for consultations about the eroding relationship with the colonies. Thus, the modest 12-by-12 foot living room of the home was essentially the first American embassy in London.

The British tourists also on the tour were intrigued when I told them I was from Philadelphia.  Their familiarity about Franklin could be summed up by one incident in his life, “He’s the bloke that flew the kite in a storm. We learned about it in school.” During the tour we learned more about Franklin’s achievements during his London stay.

benjamin franklin rocky statue

Two prominent Philadelphians finally meet.

One evening as he was running a finger around a bowl he got the idea to develop the glass armonica (not to be confused with the more contemporary harmonica), a series of horizontal glass bowls rotating on a metal rod, becoming the first American to invent a musical instrument.  The bowls are rubbed to create a baleful sound that would make a perfect soundtrack for a horror film.

It was originally believed that these sinister sounds drove many early armonica players mad. In reality, the lead in the glass caused this ailment.  An unleaded model can be played by visitors; the original is on display at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia. In London, Franklin also developed the lightning rod; one of which is still perched atop St. Paul’s Cathedral.

benjamin franklin house in london glass armonica

During the home’s renovation, 26 layers of paint were removed to expose the color that was there in the 1750s, now dubbed “Franklin’s Green.” This color seems appropriate. Always a trendsetter, Franklin was “green” before it was cool. In London he fine-tuned the energy-saving Franklin stove and during the winter he was in bed by 4:30 PM, the better to cut down on candle usage; sort of the 18th-century equivalent of a “watt watcher.”


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Visiting the Benjamin Franklin house in London

The Benjamin Franklin House is located one block from Charing Cross Station on the London Underground.

Web site: Benjamin Franklin House

Time to allow: About an hour for the guided tour.

Who should go? Lovers of major American history/minor British history, Georgian architecture. Be sure to ask about the bones in the basement.

Is it worth it? The tour costs 7 pounds (about $11 USD). It’s worth it for a fascinating look at a statesman/scientist/inventor/author and all around interesting guy. It doesn’t hurt to be from Philly.

You may also be interested in where American Revolution villain Benedict Arnold is buried in London.

28581550060_131210d7e7_mLarissa and Michael Milne are your typical middle-aged couple from Philadelphia who’ve been traveling the world full-time since 2011, seeking off-beat, historic and tasty sights. To receive monthly updates and valuable travel tips subscribe here.

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{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

Steve September 29, 2013 at 9:34 am

Who would have thought they’d celebrate Benjamin Franklin in London?

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Michael September 29, 2013 at 12:27 pm

I was a bit surprised myself to come across this. I lived in Philly where Franklin is revered but never heard of his home in London.

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Kyle September 29, 2013 at 9:48 am

Isn’t there a Franklin house in Philadelphia?

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Michael September 29, 2013 at 12:26 pm

Benjamin Franklin’s house in Philly was demolished so they rebuilt the outline of the house on the same site next to a museum devoted to him. He is buried nearby.

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Suze September 29, 2013 at 12:23 pm

What an interesting slice of history. I never knew about this. Thanks for sharing.

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Michael October 1, 2013 at 11:27 pm

Glad you enjoyed it.

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Lauren Meshkin @BonVoyageLauren October 3, 2013 at 1:40 am

“He’s the bloke that flew the kite in a storm.” Ha! Love it. I’ll check this out on my next visit. Thanks for sharing.

Happy travels :)

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wanderingeducators October 15, 2013 at 10:37 am

Very cool! I didn’t know he’d been there for 16 years!

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Micki @ The Barefoot Nomad October 15, 2013 at 4:12 pm

Oh, how interesting. I’d never heard of Franklin being in London for so long!

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Cat of Sunshine and Siestas October 16, 2013 at 5:47 am

I love the picture with little Rocky. Wonder who else could be in that photo?!

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Michael October 20, 2013 at 1:26 am

Well if it was another famous Philadelphian perhaps Will Smith, Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Cosby or Kevin Bacon, whose father used to be the Philadelphia city planner and was on the cover of Time magazine once.

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Mary @ Green Global Travel October 17, 2013 at 3:52 pm

Very interesting – especially about the lead in the glass armonica and the ensuing madness.

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Marina K. Villatoro October 18, 2013 at 1:40 pm

HOw interesting. I also thought he lived in Paris for a long time during the time US wanted to ally with France.
He certainly had a full life.

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Bethaney - Flashpacker Family October 20, 2013 at 12:42 am

I love stumbling upon these historic homes in London! I went to the Dickens House Museum and it was fantastic!!!

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Michael October 20, 2013 at 1:22 am

I went to the Dickens House years ago and really enjoyed it too.

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Gabi (The Nomadic Family) October 20, 2013 at 1:44 am

What an interesting slice of history.I love the picture with little Rocky.Thanks
gabi

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Lex @ Lex Paradise October 21, 2013 at 5:42 pm

I learn new history here! :) Now is a museum!

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Terry at Overnight New York October 23, 2013 at 3:58 pm

Somehow I missed this when I lived in London. Sounds like a great place to visit. And your fellow visitors must have loved seeing guests from Philadelphia for that dash of authenticity.

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Dale October 28, 2013 at 4:51 am

I had no idea that Mr Franklin had spent any time in London and I too must admit that the only thing I heard about him in school was the activities involving the kite.

Perhaps I need to take myself to the house next time I’m in London to educate myself a little more.

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