Benjamin Franklin’s House in London was the destination for 24 Friends of Whitehall on a bright crisp November morning. The house, in Craven street, is situated near Trafalgar Square and Charing Cross station and is where Benjamin Franklin lodged for over sixteen years between 1725 and 1755. One half of the group were ushered into a room to see a video giving an overview of Franklin’s life and work before climbing the stairs to see the rest of the house.
As we moved from room to room, Franklin’s story was told by an actress representing Polly Hewson, the daughter of his landlady, Margaret Stevenson. Franklin’s wife was afraid of sea travel and remained in Philadelphia so Margaret and Polly became surrogate family to Franklin.
We learnt about Franklin’s many talents; philosopher, writer, printer and scientist, especially his work with electricity. Franklin became one of the Founding Fathers of the United States and his signature is on the ‘Declaration of Independence’.
At the end of the visit we were shown one of his inventions, the glass harmonica, a series of spinning glass bowls on a spindle, which when touched with wet fingers produced different notes. Mozart and Beethoven wrote music to be played on the harmonica, but Friends who tried their hand at playing the harmonica were only able to make screeching noises!
Meanwhile the second half of the group had joined Eleanor Jackson, Friend of Whitehall and a Blue Badge Guide for a short stroll around the local area. Walking past the Playhouse Theatre we were told of the disaster that stuck in 1905 when part of the roof of the adjacent Charing Cross station collapsed onto the theatre and killed six men.
Happier memories were evoked as we wandered up Buckingham Street where many famous figures once resided, Samuel Pepys, Charles Dickens and Samuel Taylor Coleridge being just a few of the well-known names that had lived here.
The Friends were intrigued to be shown the pub ‘The Ship and Shovel’ in Craven Passage which has buildings on both sides of the passage. Seeing the pub brought to mind lunch time. Both groups dispersed to find their own lunch before returning to Craven Street where the groups swapped activities – the walkers visited the House and those who had seen the house went on the walk.
The visit to Franklin’s House was generously arranged by the Heritage Department and together with Eleanor’s informative walk, the Friends had a fascinating day out.
This event was organised for the Friends of Whitehall by the London Borough of Sutton’s Heritage Service as part of their ongoing programme of activities relating to the refurbishment of Whitehall Historic House.
The Friends of Whitehall is a registered charity that supports Whitehall through volunteering and fundraising. Their support and enthusiasm are invaluable and in joining them you could play a valuable part in protecting this important historic building.
Annual membership £7 or £12 for families which gives discounts in the tea room and for selected events, plus a newsletter and a full Friends event programme.
For more information about the Friends of Whitehall visit their website.