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raven Street: Early History of the Site



Craven Street roughly follows the line of Spur Alley, an offshoot of Brewer’s Lane with an outlet to the Strand, until its redevelopment, circa 1730. The name, Spur Alley, was descriptive of its shape, and it was clearly shown on Morden & Lea’s map of 1682 (see The Survey of London, Vol. XVIII, p 27). Brewer’s Lane took its name from an ancient brewery or “Beirhouse” which was held under lease together with several cottages by John Evingar at the close of the 15th century.

James I adopted the practice of selling off Crown properties en masse to speculators in return for ready money. In February, 1613-14, a grant of this nature was made to George Low and Edmund Sawyer (which included the Brewhouse and its appurtenances). This property was promptly disposed of by two lawyers and re-sold to William and George Whitmore. These brothers were rising City merchants and were speculating heavily in land. In 1620, Dame Elizabeth Craven bought all the Brewhouse property, with only a few exceptions, as an investment for the legacy of her sons. The property passed to her older son, William, circa 1637. At this time, William, Baron Craven was actively engaged in giving large sums of money to Charles I during the early years of the Civil War (amounting to approximately £50,000). Craven’s generosity to the Royalist cause provoked considerable animosity among the parliamentarians, and Craven’s estates were confiscated on 16 March 1650, when Parliament resolved that Craven was an offender against the Commonwealth of England. In spite of Craven’s appeals from abroad, an Act for the sales of his estates was passed in 1652.

The Brewhouse property was sold in 8 lots. Most of the houses were of wood and contained only three or four rooms, and many of them were described in the deeds of sale as “ruinous” or “ancient.” However, regardless of the state of these properties, Craven eventually recovered his estates at the Restoration. He was subsequently awarded honours and offices, becoming the Earl of Craven in March 1664. In 1687, he bought most of the property that had been excepted out of the purchase made in 1620 by his mother.

In 1720, Spur Alley was described as “a very narrow and ill Passage out of the Strand; but after a little way groweth wider and better inhabited.”  The ratebooks show that during the last 30 years or so of their existence, the houses in Spur Alley were in a very bad condition: some were rated (taxed) at only a few shillings, few of them were occupied. After the death of the Earl of Craven, his property descended in a collateral line in 1697 to William, 5th Earl of Craven. William Craven the Younger eventually decided that his Strand property was ripe for development, and after raising some capital by mortgaging the ground, then proceeded to pull down the houses in Spur Alley and Brewer’s Lane.

The greater part of the ground on either side of Spur Alley was afterwards known as Craven Street. The land was let out in plots on building leases, dated at various times between 1730-1735. Twenty houses were erected on the west side of Craven Street and 15 on the east side, the ground at the southern end being used as a wharf (the Thames came up much closer to Craven Street in the 18th century than it does today). The original leases expired in 1789 but William – the 6th Baron Craven – renewed these leases, and the street was extended farther toward the river. Nos. 21-24 were built on the west side, and nos. 25-30 were built on the east side of the way. In 1793, Lord Craven granted a piece of ground described as a “small Wharf and Premises situate…between the south end of the New Buildings lately erected at the bottom of Craven Street…and the River Thames, front south on an Embankment lately made or now making in said River….”  This embankment remained until 1862-70, when the Victoria Embankment was formed and a considerable strip of group was reclaimed from the river.

Architectural Description

The houses on Craven Street give an impression of uniformity. Most have brick fronts with gauged dressings to the window openings, while the face to the two storeys have been ‘cemented’ (stuccoed) with false joints to give the allusion of masonry. The houses mostly consist of three storeys above the ground and basement, though some have had their roofs altered, including numbers 13, 37, 38, and 39. The iron railings to the areas are in general contemporary with the buildings, so too the iron balconies on the first floor windows.

Most of the interiors of the earlier houses (c. 1730-35) are paneled. The chief rooms, including hall and stairs, have “fielded” panels in two heights divided by a chair rail and completed with a fine moulded cornice. The upper rooms are generally finished with plain paneling. The chimney pieces have mainly been replaced with 19th century examples. The staircases have turned balusters mostly three to a tread and cut strings with carved brackets to the lower flights; the upper flights have close strings.

36 Craven Street

36 and 37 Craven Street are similar in plan. Most of the rooms are paneled; the stairs are typical. 36 has carved wood mantelpieces with decorative pilasters to the jambs. Craven Street adjoins a neighbouring 18th century development – the Adelphi. The Adelphi was developed between 1768 and 1774, and forms one of the most notable works of the renowned Georgian architects, the Adams brothers: Robert, James and William. The design of the buildings was mostly the work of Robert Adam, born 1728 and educated at Edinburgh University. Craven Street has the longest stretch of 18th century housing of any other street south of the Strand. Like most of the turnings out of the south side of the Strand, Spur Alley was originally approached through an archway and this continued to be the case long after the street was rebuilt and re-named.

Historical Notes

A building lease of the site of this house together with a building of the same width over Brewer’s Lane was granted on 12 June 1730, to William Nind, ironmonger, who mortgaged the property to John Hodson, gentleman, a few months later.  Margaret Stevenson, Franklin's landlady began her leasehold in 1748.