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N ews - 2012

US Presidential Debate 2012

Presidential Debate

On Friday, 19 May 2012, just prior to the American Presidential election, we hosted a debate featuring leaders from Republicans Abroad and Democrats Abroad on the best candidate to steer the United States over the next four years. The debate, moderated by Sir Robert Worcester, Founder of MORI (Market and Opinion Research International), was organised in association with the Eccles Centre for American Studies and held at the British Library. Listen to the full debate below.

Posted 11 December 2012

Daughters of the American Revolution Special Projects Grant

Benjamin Franklin House is pleased to be the recipient of a Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) Special Projects Grant supporting the delivery of engaging educational workshops for London school children during the 2012-13 academic year. Benjamin Franklin House offers a diverse range of learning activities for school groups and families: a visit to the House satisfies scientific curiosity and enhances historical knowledge. Hands-on activities in our Student Science Centre, based on the London life and work of Benjamin Franklin, one of the main figures of the Enlightenment and American history, are simple, structured and stimulating to capture children’s imagination, enabling them to be involved in the process of investigation.

Posted 6 December 2012

A poem by Joe O'Toole, Benjamin Franklin Fellowship Debate Winner 2012

During his time at the Benjamin Franklin Fellowship Summer Institute, Joe O'Toole, a Sixth Form student from St Cecilia's School in Wandsworth, shared his poetic impressions of America with his peers. His poem (below) has been published on the Institute's website. Joe won his place at the Institute, joining over 50 other secondary school students from around the world,  for his strong performance at our annual Benjamin Franklin Fellowship Debate Competition in April 2012.  The Institute allows teenagers from different countries to explore their shared principles and challenges.  Students participate in educational trips to Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., as well as classes, workshops and civic engagement activities.

In America

I’ve awoken in a surreal American Dream
intrigued by the places that I’ve been,
the people that I’ve seen,
unnerved by the differences that glean.

Politicians that fall rather than lean,
overwhelmed by a firey religious scene
but in admiration of everything to the extreme.

This land does not compromise on what it wants, and how,
when opinions divide they clash and turn and row,
but maintain a sense of self;
race, religion, wealth.

A country that appears to disagree on everything that it’s meant to be.
Individuals that do not distinguish between what they wish, and what they actually see,
creates what appears to be a destructive entity
yet defines a constantly speaking thinking national identity. 

Our futures are determined by expectation.
What we want, and what we want to become is a fixation.
So where do we each fit, in relation,
to this constantly speaking thinking nation? 

An American Dream is an ideal world to live,
as you rely on yourself and are rewarded for what you give.
This is where the United States does flourish,
a mentality that, in theory, does not punish,
but opens the door for those who want to enter
with the promise of success if you become your own dream’s mentor.

But what expectations should a young man possess?
Where are the guidelines to show him what’s best?
This iconic country that encourages ambition,
Yet charges tens of thousands for college tuition.

This land, built on a beautiful fundamental morality
whilst capitalism and exploitation is a more apparent reality.
Kids given guns, they’re patriots in proof,
while the number of kids with guns has hit the roof.

But wait, they’ve got a black man in a house that used to be so white.
A female secretary of state fighting a formerly masculine fight.

Borders with such influential voices.
A country with a realm of international choices.
But still they are struck down by a lack of direction,
complete discontent in an upcoming election.

As a foreign man, in a united state,
I see so much difference, so much debate.
With no answer about where to focus the goal;
To pray, to study, to break the mould?

In a tribe I would be taught how to hunt and provide,
here, the books are open and we’re left to decide.

So people travel from home, where there they found nothing,
and found that this America Dream was not bluffing;
make what you will of the chances you get,
in an attempt to live a life that you won’t regret.
So sit back, relax, soak up a tan,
because we’ve still got no clue what it means to be a man.

By Joe O’Toole


Posted 6 December 2012

Thanksgiving Dinner 2012

Benjamin Franklin House held its third annual Thanksgiving dinner at the Butchers' Hall on 22 November.  Thank you to the 150 guests who celebrated with us. We are especially grateful to partner and sponsor Bloomberg for their support.  And Whole Foods Market ensured it was a delicious evening by contributing the pumpkin pies. We are already looking forward to next year: please mark 28 November 2013 in your diary!

Thanksgiving 2012

Posted 25 November 2012

From the archives: Margaret Thatcher’s visit to Benjamin Franklin House

Thatcher Visit

Margaret Thatcher and Dr. Eliot Stellar, President of the American Philosophical Society

As the first de-facto American Embassy, Benjamin Franklin House has welcomed diplomats and other important visitors throughout its history.  The first Prime Minister to visit was William Pitt, the Elder, who came to discuss with Franklin a final effort to avoid war in 1774.  Winston Churchill came in 1956. 

The last Prime Minister to visit was Margaret Thatcher.  We have recently obtained materials and photos documenting her attendance at 36 Craven Street on 17 September 1987 to celebrate the bicentennial of the American Constitution – which Franklin helped create – some ten years before the start of conservation works at the House.

During the ceremony, Thatcher received the Franklin Medal for Distinguished Public Service by the American Philosophical Society. The Society, based in Philadelphia, was co-founded by Franklin in 1743 to promote useful knowledge in the sciences and humanities through scholarly research, publications, and outreach. Dr. Eliot Stellar, the Society’s President, noted Thatcher had “strengthened a vital western power by guiding Great Britain's economic recovery, by effectively asserting the nation's role in the international community, and by enhancing domestic stability as the first Prime Minister in modern British history elected to three consecutive terms.”  The Prime Minister was also presented with a bust of Franklin sculpted by US Chief Justice Warren Burger.

Guests included the Lord Mayor of Westminster; US Ambassador Charles Price; the House’s founding Governor Mary, Countess of Bessborough; her husband Lord Bessborough; and a detachment of the US Color Guard.   The release of two hundred red, white and blue balloons marked the end of the ceremony.

Two years later, Thatcher helped facilitate transfer of the freehold of 36 Craven Street to the House’s governing body.

Thatcher and Franklin's Wallet

Founding Governor Mary, Countess of Bessborough, and former House Governor, Evangeline Hunter-Jones, show Margaret Thatcher the Franklin wallet

By Matthew Andrews, Operations Intern

Posted 6 November 2012

Annual Symposium: Chasing Venus by Andrea Wulf

Chasing Venus

On Monday, 24 September 2012, we hosted our Annual Symposium in association with the Eccles Centre for American Studies at the British Library. This year’s speaker was award winning historian and author Andrea Wulf who shared tales from her latest book Chasing Venus: The Race to Measure the Heavens, the first global scientific collaboration.

On 6 June 1761, the planet Venus passed between the earth and the sun, and was visible as a small black dot against the burning face of the sun for six hours. Transits of Venus occur in pairs eight years apart, and the second transit took place on 3 June 1769. It was a significant to attempts to calculate the distance between the earth, the sun, and other planets. Individuals from Europe and America were dispatched to points across the globe to record the relevant data.

Where there is inquiry and erudition of course, there is Franklin.  Franklin noted, “The Improvement of Geography and Astronomy is the common Concern of all polite Nations.” He sent telescopes from London to friends in Philadelphia and at Harvard University to aid their observations. And while living at Craven Street he secured publication of key colonial observations on the 1769 Transit of Venus by two Americans in the Royal Society’s Philosophical Transactions. It is but one example, among many, of his efforts to promote intellectual exchange between the place of his birth and that of his ancestry. 

Posted 15 October 2012

Scott Varland Lecture: The American Enlightenment from Franklin to the Reverend Martin Luther King

In 1787, fifty-five men constructed the United States out of Enlightenment ideas propounded by Benjamin Franklin and others like Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, John Locke, and Adam Smith. Following in their footsteps, individuals such as Abraham Lincoln, Susan B. Anthony, and Martin Luther King have refined these ideas without abandoning them. Scott Varland, American lawyer and author, explored the trajectory of American democratic thought. Listen to the full lecture below.


Posted 16 July 2012

Robert H. Smith Lecture 2012

Lord Hannay by Alexander McIntyre

On Monday, 21 May 2012, we hosted the second annual Robert H. Smith Lecture in American Democracy, in association with the Eccles Centre for American Studies at the British Library. 2012 speaker, distinguished diplomat Lord Hannay of Chiswick, former Minister at the British Embassy in Washington and former British Ambassador to the United Nations, discussed ‘Some Thoughts on the Diplomacy of a Great Democracy by an Outside Observer.’ This annual lecture honours American business leader and philanthropist, Robert H. Smith, a key supporter of Benjamin Franklin House, who was passionate about the roots and reach of American democracy. Listen to the full lecture below. 

Posted 16 July 2012. Image of Lord Hannay by Alexander McIntyre.

Lady Reid Lecture – Franklin and the Artists

Franklin’s likeness was painted and etched many times during his lifetime, and he consequently developed friendships with a number of artists. Lady Joan Reid, House historian and Franklin scholar, highlighted some of these ties against the important backdrop of 18th century portraiture. Listen to the full lecture with accompanying slides below.

Lady Reid’s next lecture will take place Monday 23 July, 12pm on Franklin and Joseph Priestly. Tickets are £5/£3.50 Friends and concessions. To book tickets call +44(0)2078392006 or email

Posted 16 July 2012

Benjamin Franklin House Intern, Ryan Smith, wins Volunteer Centre Westminster's 2012 Youth Volunteer Award

RYan Smith

Benjamin Franklin House takes great pleasure in announcing that Ryan Smith, who served as a House Marketing intern from April 2011 to April 2012, received Volunteer Centre Westminster’s Youth Volunteer Award at a ceremony on 13 June. Ryan was recognised for his exceptional dedication, enthusiasm, and skills which were of tremendous benefit to Benjamin Franklin House during his tenure.  Ryan worked with the Front of House and Marketing Supervisor to help implement the House’s marketing plan, including through outreach to key groups such as group tour operators and guidebook publishers.  He also successfully promoted key House events including the 2011 annual Thanksgiving Dinner.

Ryan's passion for the House and its history are evidenced in a well-researched paper he wrote on key aspects of the House’s architectural history, shared with the House’s staff and pro bono architectural consultants.  Highlights from Ryan’s work can be found in his “Unlocking the History of Benjamin Franklin House” below.

For information on volunteering at Benjamin Franklin House, please contact House Education Manager, Stephen Wilson, at

Posted 14 June 2012

Lady Reid Lecture – Franklin and Thomas Paine

Thomas Paine was one of the most inspirational and challenging characters who enjoyed Benjamin Franklin’s patronage. Lady Reid discussed Paine’s rise and fall and the part he played in the American and French revolutions. In the Rights of Man Paine explained in his mission: “For my part I am fully satisfied that what I am now doing with an endeavour to conciliate mankind, to render their condition happy, to unite nations that have hitherto been enemies, and to extirpate the horrid practice of war, and break the chains of slavery and oppression...being the best service I can perform, I act it cheerfully”.

Listen to the full lecture with accompanying slides below.


Lady Reid’s next lecture will take place Monday 23 April, 12pm on Franklin and the Artists. Tickets are £5/£3.50 Friends and concessions. To book tickets call +44(0)2078392006 or email

Posted 29 February 2012

Ben Franklin: No Egoist Was He

Since 1635, the Boston Latin School has educated several of America’s leaders. Perhaps the greatest of these was Benjamin Franklin. Why do I say this? I say this because Benjamin Franklin was not an egoist, not an ideologue, not a self-aggrandizer, not a double-talker, not a thief. Although he was heavily involved in the founding of this country, he never sought elected office.


He was elected to office on a few occasions anyway, but on each of these occasions he was conscripted into running by people who knew what a true leader was, and what a false leader was not. Ben Franklin was content to work behind the scenes. He rarely took credit for his ideas and initiatives. At salons and soirées, he was mostly silent, content to listen to what others had to say. He never allowed himself to be drawn into a public argument. A wealthy man by the time he was 42 years old, Franklin, on several occasions, drew from his personal fortune, or put it at risk, toward protecting or furthering the public good.

For example, in 1755, when General Braddock arrived in the colonies with an army to push the French out of the Ohio Valley, the general expected the colonists to supply him with provisions, including horses and wagons. When the colonists balked, out of lack of trust, and General Braddock threatened seizure, Ben convinced the farmers of Pennsylvania to supply the general with everything he demanded, by putting his own wealth up as collateral. When Braddock was routed by Indians allied with the French, losing to ambush after ambush two-thirds of his officers and half his men and his own life as well, Ben was faced with financial ruin. Fortunately, the man who replaced Braddock covered Ben’s £20,000 surety bond in full.

Ben Franklin was no Bill Gates, no Steve Jobs. For example, in 1741, Ben invented the Pennsylvania fireplace (Franklin stove) and refused to patent it. As a result, the Franklin stove – far more efficient and effective than any preceding heating system – proliferated throughout the land, to the comfort of many. Ben collected not a penny. In 1749, Ben invented the lightning rod and refused to patent it. As a result, the lightning rod spread to every steeple and roof top in America and Europe, and saved countless people and piglets from a horrific demise. Ben collected not a penny. Can you imagine Bill Gates refusing to take even a penny for MS-DOS? Steve Jobs refusing to take even a penny for the iPhone?

At the age of 42, Franklin retired from his printing and Almanack business and dedicated the rest of his life (another 42 years, as it turned out) to public service. Without him in this role, the colonies would likely not have won the support of the French against the British and therefore would likely not have won the American War for Independence. Indeed, no egoist was he.


By Tom Fitzgerald, the author of 'Poor Richard’s Lament: A most timely tale.' Taken from remarks made at the Boston Latin School, Boston MA, on the occasion of Ben Franklin’s 306th birthday, January 17, 2012.

Posted 20 February 2012

Unlocking the History of Benjamin Franklin House

House Wall

When I wander through the streets of London, I enjoy spying the smooth brick facades of Georgian terrace houses. The red brick and sash windows are familiar and appealing but there can be more than meets the eye.   Behind the elegant veneer often lies the closet-wing: a modest, cosy, seemingly insignificant addition to the original eighteenth century design.

Indeed Benjamin Franklin House includes a closet wing that is not visible from the street.  When was it added?  As a heritage volunteer at Benjamin Franklin House, this is a question I set out to answer.
My first port of call were historic maps and ordnance survey documents.  The latter, which were developed in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, do not provide enough detail so I looked for other clues.   I came across Richard Horwood’s map of 1790, but that did not indicate a closet wing.  In the Archives of London I discovered a wealth of documentation on Craven Street; the prominence of Lord Craven, for whom the street is named, probably ensured his holdings were well recorded.  In this material is a survey of the Craven estates – and, most importantly, the Strand estate.  It includes details of property leaseholds and related costs, and, at the back of the book, a detailed plan of Craven Street circa 1793 which shows the closet wing.  When it was erected, however, remained a mystery. 

I then turned to the London Metropolitan Archives and in the online catalogue discovered the first lease to the House signed in 1732 by William, 5th Baron Craven and William Nind. (Nind did not in fact come to live at the House and subsequently mortgaged it to a John Hodson.)   There was a sketch of the House’s layout but with no definitive closet-wing.  The House was recorded as 28 feet in width and 46 in depth on the south side, which does not match the measurements today which includes the back closet. 

I uncovered other interesting information.  The leaseholder after Franklin’s landlady Margaret Stevenson, was Josiah Day, circa 1789.  He apparently paid £26 reserved rent and up to £150 in repairs. In addition, he was to pay the sum of £28 in annuities and £56 in fines on renewal. (Another house on the street was mortgaged for £600, approximately £51,588 today, and 36 Craven Street would likely have had a similar value.)  Day had a “carpenter’s shop and rooms over it, a stable coach house in Brewer’s Lane” at the back of the House – occupied by Charing Cross Station today – with annuities of eight pounds, six shillings and eight pence.  On the opposite side of Brewer’s Lane was a small building “converted into a stable by Mr. Day without any authority’ which “was formerly a Common Dung hole belonging to Lord Craven’s Tenants.”   An area at the base of Craven Street, part of the Victorian Embankment today, measuring 121 x 76 x 67 x 98 feet was noted as “Lord Craven’s Embankment. Granted to him by the City of London.”

While my original question remains impossible to answer with true certainty, the answer I have reached is beyond much doubt and sheds a little more light into the intriguing history of 36 Craven Street. At 281 years old, Benjamin Franklin House continues to provide an unparalleled link with the past.


By Ryan Smith, House Marketing Intern

Posted 23 January 2012

House 6th and Franklin 306th Birthday Celebration

On 17 January 2012, we hosted a reception to celebrate the 6th anniversary of opening the House to the public and Franklin’s 306th birthday. Thank you to everyone who joined us to celebrate.

Ben Franklin 


News Archive - 2006

News Archive - 2005

Countdown to Opening

To find out more, or book a place for an event, please call 020 7839 2006 or email


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