Google+ London Architecture Blog: Week 27 13 Feature # 20 Benjamin Franklin House

Friday, 19 July 2013

Week 27 13 Feature # 20 Benjamin Franklin House

First floor
Benjamin Franklin House
Date Completed: 1730
Location: 36 Craven St, London, WC2N 5NF

The Benjamin Franklin House is a Georgian terrace on Craven Street, located between Charing Cross and The Strand, The houses were built in 1730 and between 1757 and 1775 was the home of Benjamin Franklin, an American diplomat, scientist, writer, politican, inventor and one of the Founding Father of the United States. The house was also the first embassy of the United States in London and owing to its historical significance is Grade I listed (1970) and today is used as a museum and educational facility. 

The House is part of a row of Georgian terraces built in 1730. At the time, the River Thames finished at the southern end of what was previously Spur Alley and is now Craven Street. Spur Alley was a small road located between The Strand and Brewers Lane. After the existing houses were left unoccupied and had fallen into a state of disrepair, William Craven (of whom the street is named after) decided to develop the site and the land was divided into plots. Twenty houses were built on the west side of Craven Street and 15 on the east side. Further houses were built in the late 19th century towards the river and the surrounding area developed rapidly during the 19th century, including the construction of the embankment, and the development of The Strand.

The interior and exterior of the house are original. Key features include the room layout, the interior wall panelling, staircase, stoves, windows and the main structure which remain exactly as they were during Franklin's stay in the house. The exterior contains a brick frontage to Craven Street with iron railings at ground floor level and balconies to the first floor windows. The ground floor elevation consists of a stucco surface with horizontal lines giving the impression of stone with a timber door and semi curcular opening above. The elevation contains sash windows to all four floors, with tall narrow windows for the first floor hall.

Inside, the entrance hall consists of wall panelling and cornices, oak floorboards and a main staircase which leads to the upper floors. The staircase contains Vitruvian scroll detailing to the sides of the treads and three turned balustrades per tread. The stairs and wall panelling is painted with a soft green paint, believed to have been used for its practical and economic qualities. At ground floor level is a front reception room with a fireplace, From the entrance hall a door leads out to a small courtyard at the rear and then back inside, a narrow staircase leads down to the basement. The basement contains an educational room with a projector, seating and historical artefacts related to the house, and towards the front, a room which was previously used as a kitchen and preparation area.

At first floor level, is a large hall with tall narrow windows and beautiful wooden shutters looking out onto Craven street. This was the key space in the house and a fireplace located on the southern wall contains craved detail and a marble surround inside of which is a bust statue of Franklin. From here, another smaller room containing a kite (representing Franklin's experiments with lightning and electricity) looks out onto the courtyard. The upper floors contain a glass armonica, another of Franklin;s inventions and further living space, currently used as offices for the house.

Today the house is used as a museum and educational facility, which runs historical experiences and educational events - portraying the experience of Franklin's time spent living in the house and the time period in which he lived there. In addition to the Historical Experiences, the house runs architectural tours on a Monday, which offer an insight into the features of the house and it's architectural history. For more information on the house and the history of Craven Street, and to book a place on one of the excellent tours, please visit the website;

Thank you to Claire and all of the staff at the House for allowing me to take photographs inside the house.

Bust of Franklin
Fireplace detail
Shutters on the first floor
Interior door on the first floor
Door detail
Fireplace on the first floor
Detail of the shutters on the first floor
Entrance hall
Handrail detail (to basement)
Entrance hall
Stair and balustrade detail
Basement hall
Basement hall
Stove in the basement
Tea set in the basement kitchen
Rear elevation
Ground floor
Front elevation
Detail of balconies

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this blog, I never knew this house museum existed, or that Benjamin Franklin stayed at this house, presumably periodically, for such an extended period. I will definitely visit the house on my next visit to London.