This past weekend I also visited the Benjamin Franklin house, located just off the Strand (Busy weekend, I know. There was also a friendsgiving, a wander through Holland Park, and a stop at the Southbank Winter Festival and Rekorderlig Cider Lodge. Always so much to do in London!)
This was a very different experience than Stafford Terrace, or Osterley Park which I also visited. These were more ‘traditional’ historic house museums, although both certainly worth visiting. Historic furnishings and tour guides were present at both places, along with a range of activities for Christmas at Osterley.
Benjamin Franklin house (where he lived for 16 years, and is the only house related to him that still exists!) is completely different.
While the house is completely intact architecturally, there are no furnishings in the house, at all. Partially this is due to there being none of the original furnishings, but the Friends obviously made a conscious choice not to pursue this- they could have used replicas, period appropriate furniture, etc
Instead, what awaits you is a multimedia experience, beginning with a video introducing you to the house and Benjamin Franklin, led by a trained actress playing the daughter of the widow who owned the house. Besides interaction with the costumed actress, there are lights, sounds, video, and dialogue throughout, which are what brings the house and its story to life.
This is a really interesting alternative to the typical method of historic interpretation, and one I think worth experiencing, both as a visitor, and as a museum professional. While I don’t think this could be replicated everywhere, its uniqueness ensures that the method is fine on its own, and from a professional standpoint, elements of this could be taken and applied effectively elsewhere.
Overall, an interesting visit, learning not only about Benjamin Franklin (I really did learn quite a bit!), but also a bit about alternative interpretation methods.
If you’re interested, please note that all visits are by tour only, which can be booked online. There are two types of tours- the historical experience, which is described above- and an architectural tour, focusing solely on these architectural features. If visiting, I recommend being a bit early, as there is a small display in the room where the tour starts about the ‘Craven Street Bones’ and some panels about the house restoration.
Have you visited Benjamin Franklin house? What did you think? Good way to interpret a site with few artifacts, or worth interpreting at all?
Any other sites with unique interpretation?