Ben Franklin’s London lodgings are considered by some as the first true American embassy. This Founding Father entertained some real heavy hitters of the era (i.e. Thomas Paine) at 36 Craven Street, where he lived for more than a decade-and-a-half while working to reconcile tensions and negotiate colonial interests with England. Those negotiations, of course, did not come to a workable solution, and Franklin returned to Pennsylvania in 1775. You probably know what happened from there.
In our first post, we explored some of the history of the house itself and the family who lived there, the widowed Mrs. Margaret Stevenson and her daughter Polly. The family became so close that Polly Hewson (nee Stevenson) eventually moved to Philadelphia and was there when Franklin passed away in 1790.
In this post, we’ll explore the upper floors where Franklin lived, including how you can play an instrument he invented.
Here’s the interior of the front room, the large windows you see face the street on the second floor. One video I watched said Franklin liked to sunbathe in the windows. He also swam in the nearby River Thames.
While there were no pictures of Franklin in the room (we missed the high-tech projections of the “Historical Experience”) there is a bust of Ben in the fireplace.
Along with his writing and diplomatic accomplishments, Franklin is also remembered for his scientific studies, which continued in his London years, including work on the Franklin stove, daylight savings time and a lightning rod design installed atop London’s St. Paul’s Cathedral.
Visitors can also play the glass armonica, an instrument Franklin invented in 1761. Mozart and Beethoven composed pieces for the glass armonica, originally called “the glassychord.”
It operates on the same principle of making sounds with water and wine glasses, and was apparently a hit in its time. However, the glass armonica could not produce loud sounds, and as music shifted to larger symphonic pieces in concert halls (i.e. Beethoven), the glass armonica fell out of favor.
To me, it seemed somewhat bulky and impractical, with glass bowls as key components. However, Franklin was a scientist, inventor, writer, printer, diplomat, etc. who created a brand new musical instrument, I just watch a lot of TV. You can check out YouTube videos to hear it – it’s kind-of haunting.
Ever the writer, Franklin even had time while in London to produce several versions of the Craven Street Gazette, a newspaper spoof chronicling life in the house with witty alter egos for the family members.
The Ben Franklin House had a small gift shop, and I escaped with just a few postcards. It took much restraint to pass on the Ben Franklin action figure.
While Franklin entertained dignitaries of his day at Craven Street, the Franklin House boasts of some famous visitors of more recent history ranging from Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher to Dame Judi Dench and Jon Bon Jovi. You can join those distinguished ranks by visiting the Ben Franklin House yourself!
If you have questions about admissions, concessions and the all important bathrooms, check out our “On the Map” page. In our next post, we’re climbing the 227 steps of Baltimore’s Washington Monument.