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N ews - 2013

British Library - 'Georgians Revealed' Exhibition Trip Review

On Tuesday 12 November 2013, the Benjamin Franklin House team ventured to the British Library for the new ‘Georgians Revealed’ exhibition (running until 11 March 2014) to learn more about the historical context of Benjamin Franklin’s stay in London.

Following an introduction outlining the historical events during the reigns of King George I, II, III and IV, the exhibition focused on developments in popular culture and social life in the period. A number of economic, cultural, and technical developments transformed daily living – with access to inexpensive luxury goods, more information in print (and increased literacy), and improved transportation, and communication. These developments happened simultaneously, building one on the other. It was clearly a period of exciting innovation.

We found it interesting that Georgian Britain gave rise to the mass culture and consumerism with which are familiar today.  So many aspects of life today can be traced to the Georgian era – newspapers, magazines, high-street shopping, fashion, celebrity, and even the National Lottery.  It was a period that also led to the formation of public museums.

The exhibition featured quirky Georgian facts: for instance, many English thoroughbred race horses are descended from a single unbeatable race horse called Eclipse – who, after a 17 month career, enjoyed an amorous retirement. One of the main highlights, however, was the giant floor map of London in the exhibition’s final room – not least because we were able to locate Benjamin Franklin House! 

Our verdict: definitely worth seeing!

By Will Courtley

Posted 10 December 2013

AIM Conservation Grant supported by The Pilgrim Trust

BFH Plaque

In 1869, the (Royal) Society of Arts, originators of what became the popular blue plaque scheme to recognise the lodgings of London’s important past residents, commissioned a large terracotta plate surrounded by a wooden frame to honour Benjamin Franklin, their first international member.  However, they accidentally erected it on the wrong building. 

Prior to two rounds of renumbering and the construction of new buildings on the street, Franklin lived at 7 Craven Street which had become 36 by the late 19th century.  It was affixed incorrectly, however, to the 7 Craven Street of 1869, but this was discovered too late; it was cemented tight.  In the course of investigations, the Clerk of the London County Council proved by consulting City of Westminster rate-books (which tracked annual assessments) that Franklin’s landlady, leaseholder Margaret Stevenson, had lived two doors from Craven Passage on the east side of the street – number 36 – not at the top of the west side, where number 7 was then located. 

In 1914, 7 Craven Street was demolished to make way for a restaurant (which no longer stands) and the plaque was finally removed.  It was donated to the London Museum, then at Stafford House, St. James’s, the forerunner to the Museum of London.  In the meantime, the London County Council had put up a new plaque on 36 Craven Street, a bronze scroll and the only one of its kind, to denote Franklin’s only surviving residence anywhere in the world. 

The original plaque eventually came to rest in the Museum of London’s Hackney storehouse where it remained until the Museum kindly donated it to Benjamin Franklin House in 2010.  So now with the original plaque returned there are two plaques on display at the House! 

Thanks to support from AIM Conservation Grant supported by The Pilgrim Trust, heritage specialists Holden Conservation Ltd. were able to restore and mount the original 1869 plaque on one of the House's original interior brick walls. The mortar remnants on the back of the plaque attest to its history of having first found a home on the wrong building! However, for the first time in over 130 years the original plaque is finally displayed where it was always intended.



William Franklin Lecture at St. Pancras Old Church - 24 November 2013, 12 noon

Benjamin Franklin's illegitimate son, William, served as the last Royal Governor of New Jersey in America. William remained a loyalist during throughout the American War of Independence, while his father became one of the most influential Founding Fathers of the United States. The political differences between father and son caused an irreconcilable rift. William eventually ended up in exile in Britain, where he remained until his death. He was buried in St Pancras Churchyard in London on 25 November 1813.

On Sunday 24 November 2013, at 12 noon, St Pancras Old Church will host a talk about William Franklin. This free bicentennial presentation by Lester Hillman will explore scandal, tragedy, revolution and scientific experiments. Along the way historic links to Lord Camden and to modern-day political activist and singer Paul Robeson will be uncovered.  

Contact St Pancras Old Church History Project for more information.

Sir David Frost

Benjamin Franklin House was saddened to learn the news of Sir David Frost's death on 31 August 2013.  We had the honour of having this distinguished journalist and man of wit and wisdom speak at an event in June 2009 at Washington's Newseum (hosted by our great supporter, the late Robert H. Smith).   Sharing his insight into his life in communications, he held us all in rapt attention.  We were lucky to have met and worked with him.  Our thoughts go out to his family and friends.

Sir David Frost at Benjamin Franklin House Gala in 2009

Lady Reid Lecture - Franklin and Medicine

On 3 June 2013, scholar Lady Reid discussed the connections between Franklin and medicine during a lunch time lecture at the House. Franklin was an ardent supporter of inoculation, he invented a flexible catheter to assist those suffering from bladder stones and he was intrigued by the causes of the common cold. Listen to the full lecture with accompanying slides here.

Posted 16 July 2013

Linking young people on both sides of the Atlantic

Weston Park Primary School in Haringey, London are linking with Public School 255 in Brooklyn, New York, through our Sister Schools programme. For approximately six weeks in June and July, over two hundred 10 and 11 year olds from both schools will experience a collaborative curriculum based on the inspiring life of Benjamin Franklin.  Read more here.

Ben and Kite

Georgian Homes

To mark National Family Week, we held 'Georgian Homes' on Tuesday 28 May. Children and parents explored our 18th century building looking for clues about family life at 36 Craven Street, where Franklin lived “in serene comfort and affection” with his surrogate family Margaret and Polly Stevenson.  Following, they created a terrace of Georgian cereal box houses inspired by 36 Craven Street!

Georgian Homes 2013

Posted 30 May 2013

Lady Mary Bessborough

Lady Bessborough at Benjamin Franklin House

Lady Mary Bessborough was Benjamin Franklin’s House’s founding governor.  She died on Saturday, 13 April 2013 at her home in Philadelphia and was 98.

She was born Mary Astor Munn to Charles A. Munn and his wife, Mary Astor Paul on 3 March 1915 in Radnor, Pennsylvania.  Mary spent her early days there, but moved to Amado, her parent’s estate in Palm Beach, Florida, completed in 1920.  It was a special place frequented by the leading lights of 1920s society.  The family regularly visited Paris, and as a young woman, Mary lived there pursuing her talent as a still life painter.  She served as a nurse in the American Red Cross during the Second World War.  When she returned to Paris after the war she met and in 1948 married, Frederick Edward Ponsonby, Viscount Duncannon, later the 10th Earl of Bessborough, then working as second secretary at the French Embassy.  Mary was now Countess of Bessborough.  She gave birth to a daughter, Charlotte.  

After they moved to London, the Earl of Bessborough introduced Mary to Benjamin Franklin House, for he had ties to the British Society for International Understanding, whose headquarters were at 36 Craven Street.   By the late 1970s, the House, now empty, was becoming increasingly derelict and Mary set up the Friends of Benjamin Franklin House as the first step toward preserving the building.  She was tireless in her dedication and enlisted the support of many, including Margaret Thatcher, who gave the building’s freehold to the charity.  Mary’s great dream of a Benjamin Franklin House open to the public was realised on Franklin’s 300th birthday in January 2006.  We have now welcomed over 60,000 visitors.

She is survived by her daughter Lady Charlotte Petsopoulos and two grandsons and two great-granddaughters.  We will always be grateful to Mary’s passion for Franklin and his only surviving home.

Posted 19 April 2013

Benjamin Franklin Fellowship Debate Competition in association with the US Embassy London

On 5 March 2013, students from ten London schools (up from three in 2012!), including Burntwood School, Wilson's School, Ernest Bevin College, and Harrow High School, took part in the annual Benjamin Franklin Fellowship Debate Competition in association with the US Embassy London.  They debated motions like 'This House believes that the Royal Family have a duty to remain politically neutral' and 'This House supports the recent United Nations resolution recognising the importance of universal coverage in national health systems.' The winner, James Heale from Kingston Grammar School, will take part in the Benjamin Franklin Summer Institute at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina this summer.  He will join students from across the US and Europe.  All participants will be invited to a summer reception at Benjamin Franklin House.

Winning Team

The winning team with the judges. From left to right: Bobby Adelson (Assistant Cultural Attaché, US Embassy), Luke Kosky (Wilson's School), Tim Sharpe (Wilson's School), Monique Quesada (Cultural Attaché, US Embassy), James Heale (Kingston Grammar School), Rob Hayes (Kingston Grammar School), Dr. Márcia Balisciano (Director, Benjamin Franklin House)

Posted 12 March 2013

Sir Bob Reid Award for School Science

Pupils from Coteford Junior School, winners of our 2012 Sir Bob Reid Award for School Science, have been busy creating Victorian toys such as jumping jacks, pop-up people, and balances, examples of which can be seen below. The school used the Award to purchase the necessary materials.  The Award, honouring former House Chairman Sir Bob Reid, recognises excellence in integrating history and science in the classroom. For information about the 2013 Sir Bob Reid Award, please contact House Education Manager Stephen Wilson at or call +44 (207) 839 2013.

Tiger Fire
Clown man
Happy clown
Scary donkey

Posted 25 February 2013

BBC's The One Show

Benjamin Franklin House featured on BBC's The One Show on Wednesday 23 January 2013. The segment presented by Gyles Brandreth focused on the fascinating story of the Craven Street bones discovered at the House in 1998. Visit us to find out more about the bones and the history of the House!

Visit BBC iPlayer here to see the programme (our feature is in the last 10 minutes). It is available to watch online until 30 January 2013.

Posted 24 January 2013

In Conversation with Chris Dercon and Will Gompertz

Will and Chris

Thank you to everyone who joined us on Monday 21 January for The Young Supporters' In Conversation debate with Chris Dercon, Director of Tate Modern and BBC's Will Gompertz. The stimulating debate focused on art and social change. Proceeds from ticket sales helped to advance our charitable objectives. Listen to a segment from the discussion here.

Posted 23 January 2013

House 7th and Franklin 307th Birthday Celebration

On 17 January 2013, we hosted a reception to celebrate the 7th anniversary of opening the House to the public and Franklin’s 307th birthday. Thank you to our Friends and supporters who joined us to celebrate.

Birthday Cake

Posted 18 January 2013

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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