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Historical Experience


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The Historical Experience at Benjamin Franklin House stands alone among London attractions in its 'museum as theatre' approach, setting a new standard for historical interpretation.

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.

This dramatic tapestry, featuring the words of Franklin, removes the traditional distance between museum and visitor, bringing a sense of the urgency and innovation that characterised his life in Britain.  It reveals Franklin's intertwining of experimentation with personal and social responsibility, illuminating the Age of Enlightenment he helped to create.

The Historical Experience was developed in partnership with Event Communications, leaders in museum and heritage interpretation. They have worked on high profile projects with the Imperial War Museum North, the Victoria and Albert Museum and Canterbury Cathedral, among many others.

The script for the Historical Experience has been developed by talented writer Pat Lower. The following is an excerpt from the action in the 'Card Room' which focuses on Franklin's private interactions:


Polly: When in 1765 the Stamp Act was introduced Dr. Franklin did not foresee the explosion of riots that would occur in America and his wife Deborah wrote to tell him that his home in Philadelphia was in danger of being burned.

Sounds of rioting bricks through windows etc. lights flicker.

Deborah: Ben, I have been under pressure to leave my house, but I have stayed. I ordered some sort of defence upstairs, such as I could manage myself. If any come to disturb me I would show a proper resentment and I should be very much affronted. God bless you and keep you, is the prayer of yours forever. Deborah Franklin.

Franklin: Debbie, My dear child I am much behind hand in answering my letters. I am well; ‘tis all I can say at present except that I am just now made very happy by a vote of the Commons repealing the Stamp Act. I honour much the spirit and courage you showed and the prudent preparations you made in that time of danger.

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Looking towards the kitchen in Benjamin Franklin House

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See a snippet from our opening video