This museum may not appeal to many Londoners or indeed British folk, we tend not to have a great interest in the history of American presidents. Hidden away in theatreland, perhaps aptly placed, is a theatrical not-so spectacular attraction – a word I use loosely. The museum itself is the actual house of Benjamin Franklin, who lived in London for approximately 18 years on and off. His Georgian terraced house on Craven Street prides itself on being the only remaining residence of the President. Benjamin Franklin is known to be one of the founding fathers of America and the tour informs us of all the other areas in which he excelled or created, an impressive list which includes inventing the lightening rod.
As well as being the face of $100 dollar bill, Franklin has been immortalised in projection and imagination through this Craven Street building. Guests are offered an ‘historical experience’ in which, after a short presentation about the man himself, a young actress dressed in 1800’s clothes requests that we follow her around the house as she speaks to the invisible characters in each room, including her beloved Benjamin Franklin.
Now, as a Brit, I know us English find these situations rather awkward if not embarrassing. I usually roll along with these experiences but with this one, I felt a little unease as I watched the actress speak to an empty chair. Moreover, the projections of …I’m not too sure what, as they are projected not onto a wall but the wall/window/cubby-holes so as to obscure the view, often rolled on too long.
The thought behind this themed attraction, I feel is with the upmost respect and love. It comes, I can only assume, from the mind of an American. As the only British person in the group of about 12 people, I felt that this was most likely a tick in the box for Americans on vacation. It is different though, and, as an advocate of those museums who provide interactivity with their customers, I want to congratulate it. I think the intentions of it are actually very warm but can be misconstrued, particularly by sarcasm infused Brits (and mostly, from my point of view as a Northerner haha!)
This is what the museum website says about the experience:
The main character in the Historical Experience is Polly Hewson, daughter of Franklin‘s landlady who became a ‘second daughter’ to Franklin. Accompanied by Polly, who assumes visitors are there to see Franklin on his last night in London when he had to leave or risk arrest, the visitor experiences a sense of the complexity of the man and the times in which he lived: food, health, botany, and daily living in the basement kitchen; social and personal relationships, musical inventions and political tension on the ground floor; scientific work, political triumphs and woes, and a hurried return to America in the face of the looming War of Independence on the first floor.
On a side note, I was actually quite interested to hear about Franklin’s involvement in all things electricity and, particularly, the invention of a lightning rod. This, alongside the most recent new that a graveyard was found underneath the house. Sadly, Benjamin Franklin was not a Jack the Ripper on the side (although that would have made for some amusing additions to the acting in the museum…) the bodies ‘belonged’ to William Hewson (father of Polly, who we meet on the experience, and whose mother-in-law owned the house in which Franklin lived in) William Hewson was a student of William Hunter (brother of the famous John Hunter – Hunterian Museum) who used the bodies for ‘research’.
NEAREST TUBE: EMBANKMENT
Book online before you go to get onto the historical experience
Make sure you see the historical experience
Buy a Benjamin Franklin action figure (!) ( no really… see photo below)