While exploring Google maps around our London hotel, I discovered that we’re staying around the corner from the Benjamin Franklin House, the only house where he lived that still exists. The timing was fortuitous. I spent my Independence Day weekend investigating Benjamin Franklin in England — indulging in my Anglophile obsession while reinvigorating my American identity.
My original plan was to skim the London sections of three Benjamin Franklin biographies supplied by the library, but I hadn’t counted on the readability of Walter Isaacson. Benjamin Franklin: An American Life proved impossible to skim — I constantly found myself pulled into the story, reading page after page.
From my reading, I added several items to the timeline I’m building on the wall in the hallway.
1756. Benjamin Franklin selected to be the first American member of the Royal Society. He would attend his first meeting the next year.
1757-1762. Benjamin Franklin’s second trip to London at age 51 (he went the first time as a teenager while learning the trade of printing). Isaacson describes the city at this time as both “cramped and dirty” and “vibrant and cosmopolitan.” At a population of 750,000, London was the second-largest city in the world behind Beijing.
1758. A vacation to Cambridge where Franklin performed evaporation experiments with chemist John Hadley.
1765-1775. Franklin’s third and longest trip to London.
1766. Franklin’s speech and questioning in front of Parliament, an oratorical feat that led to the repeal of the Stamp Act.
Besides dates, I also added places to our burgeoning itinerary.
Benjamin Franklin House, Craven Street, London. Franklin boarded with Mrs. Stevenson and her daughter Polly, where he enjoyed domestic comforts (it’s not clear if these included carnal comforts) and vibrant conversation. The Benjamin Franklin House hosts architectural tours on Mondays and something they call a Historical Experience most other days.
The Devereux at 20 Devereux Court, an alley off Essex Street near the Strand. Now a pub, this used to be The Grecian coffee house where members of the Royal Society, including Benjamin Franklin, met for informal discussions and arguments.
Derby Silk Mill. In 1771, Benjamin Franklin traveled to the industrial midlands of England, just as we’re doing. I already have a full slate of day trips from Birmingham, but I might have to bump one of them in order to see the Derby Silk Mill, now that I know Benjamin Franklin was there.
I’ll link this post in tomorrow’s British Isles Friday party. Stop by here for more British-themed reviews, photos, and posts.