Trafalgar Square isn’t the only landmark within a stone’s throw of Charing Cross: head out of the main exit of the station and down Craven Street and you’ll find Benjamin Franklin House – a beautiful 18th-century building and the former home of one of the most famous men in American history.

Benjamin Franklin was the only statesman to sign all four copies of The Declaration of Independence, as well as the inventor of the bi-focals and the Franklin stove, he is also known as the ‘father of electricity’ thanks to his studies in lightning (he also coined the terms ‘battery’, ‘charge’ and ‘positive/negative’) and was a key player in the Age of Enlightenment.

Benjamin Franklin House, Craven Street London

Franklin’s reputation as one of the most multi-faceted men in history is not an exaggeration: during his life he was an author, philosophiser, statesman, scientist, inventor, and civic activist.

It’s exciting, then, to learn that this enigmatic figure was so enamoured with London that he lived here for a total 16 years – only going back to see his family once – and stayed all of that time in Craven Street. The building is now the only surviving Franklin residence and was opened to the public as Benjamin Franklin House in 2006, exactly 300 years after the man himself was born.

As there was no furniture left behind – and Franklin left no notes on the things he kept there – the rooms have been left blank, with the original floorboards and walls preserved to maintain the house’s authenticity.

Benjamin Franklin House London

And instead of a traditional museum, visitors are shown round the house by actors during a theatrical ‘historical experience’. Starting in the basement (surrounded by the bones found under the floorboards from the  anatomy school run from the house) the tour guides you through Franklin’s time in London and his role in the political tensions of the late 18th century.

It’s a one-woman show, perfectly timed with projections and voice-overs that almost make you feel out of place (in a good way) stood in your very 21st-century jeans and trainers. I’m not afraid to admit that it was so atmospheric in places that I got a bit spooked – at one point the voice of Benjamin Franklin called angrily for a servant from upstairs and I had to remind myself that it was only pretend…

Benjamin Franklin House historical experience, London

Overall this is a perfect example of a beautifully preserved house and a theatrical performance is a lovely, memorable way to experience it. I can’t help but feel a little like I’ve left something behind in normal museums: due to my lack of memory and sometimes a tendency to merely gaze at information in museums rather than actually take it in, I never really feel like I’ve absorbed enough of a place when I leave. With the historical experience in the Benjamin Franklin Museum, I left satisfied that I’d soaked it all up.

Benjamin Franklin House London

The staff are also absolutely lovely: the door of the house is locked so you have to knock for someone to answer the door – which kind of feels like you’re actually visiting a very important person. So it’s reassuring to get such a nice welcome.

And you’ll be in good company: as well as hosting politicians and international guests in Franklin’s time, the building has attracted such esteemed guests as Winston Churchill, Margaret Thatcher, Senator George Mitchell, and, err…. Jon Bon Jovi.

Which is definitely not the way I thought I’d be signing off on this post…

Nearest Tube: Charing Cross

More information:

Benjamin Franklin House gave me a complimentary ticket to their historical experience to review and if I hadn’t loved it, I wouldn’t have written about it.

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