Dr Johnson’s House: Never tired of London’s icon of the English language
For anyone with even the slightest interest in English language, Dr Samuel Johnson should need no introduction. The compiler of the Dictionary of the English Language and the second most-quoted Englishman in The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations, Dr Johnson was also (famously) a Londoner.
He lived at 17 Gough Square just off Fleet Street with his cat Hodge, his servant Francis Barber and many tenants from 1748 to 1759. It was here that he compiled his dictionary and entertained all levels of 18th-century society.
After Johnson departed, the house went through several different guises including a hotel, a printers’ workshop and a canteen for firefighters during WW2. It was eventually acquired by an MP in 1911, restored and opened to the public as a museum dedicated to the man himself.
Today the museum houses an impressive collection of Johnson memorabilia and original exhibits, including Johnson’s own books (living back where they belong in Johnson’s study), his will and, of course, various copies of the dictionary. There are also detailed information cards in each room explaining Johnson’s life, his relationship with London (and Londoners) and the people who lodged with him in Gough Square.
One of the highlights, though, is not within the walls of the house. Sat watching the front door for evermore is Hodge, Johnson’s beloved cat, guarding an oyster (the animal famously ate oysters bought personally by his master, ‘lest the servants having that trouble should take a dislike to the poor creature’) and sitting atop a plinth inscribed with one of his owner’s more quotable legacies:
Nearest Tube: Chancery Lane / St Paul’s
Opening times: Monday to Saturday, 11am-5.30pm (until 5pm in autumn/winter)
More information: Dr Johnson’s House website