Enlightenment

Ann Laffeaty writes on her blog, Where London’s history happened – in the pub:

The two terraced houses that make up the Ship and Shovell, 1-3 Craven Passage WC2 – two hundred feet from Charing Cross – were built in in the 1730s when the most southerly one had a clear view of the river via a porthole-like window. This enabled the dockers and carters who frequented the inn to keep an eye on the Thames and watch for ships that might need divesting of their coal and other goods. The buildings were later replaced and the pub was listed as the Ship and Shovel in 1852. It seems the perfect name for a pub whose clientele used to shovel coal from a ship. But in 1997 its name was changed to the Ship and Shovell (with two Ls) after a 17th century sea admiral.”

As the pub is currently closed anyway, you could leave it behind you, and turn right from Craven Passage into Craven Street. The second house on your right is Benjamin Franklin House, currently open Friday-Sunday, 12-5 for Architectural Tours (fascinating, and your booked group will number no more than four).

George Goodwin, FRHistS., FRSA, FCIM, Author in Residence at Benjamin Franklin House in London for Benjamin Franklin in London (Yale University Press), writes:

“As Mount Vernon is to George Washington and Monticello is to Thomas Jefferson, 36 Craven Street in London is to Benjamin Franklin. This small merchant’s house, near the River Thames and not far from the Houses of Parliament, and where Franklin lived between 1757 and 1775, is the only one of his homes on either side of the Atlantic that still survives. Craven Street was at the very centre of Franklin’s domestic life from the first week he arrived in London in 1757 to the day he left in March 1775. In that time, Franklin spent only a short eighteen months back in Philadelphia. In London, Franklin had an extremely strong platonic relationship with his widowed landlady, Margaret Stevenson, and was like a father to her daughter Polly. They rapidly became his second family, with their home becoming his own household and with Mrs Stevenson managing it for him.  

Benjamin Franklin had first visited London as a teenage printer in the mid-1720s and stayed for eighteen months. He returned in 1757 as the most famous American in the world. Ostensibly he came to Britain as the representative of the Assembly of Pennsylvania, but his prestige was founded on something else entirely. Franklin was a famous scientist in the Atlantic World, a Fellow of the Royal Society and friends with many of the leading intellectuals of the day, including Joseph Priestley, David Hume, Erasmus Darwin and Richard Price. Moreover, his groundbreaking electrical experiments gave him greater political access at a time when the dominant British aristocracy, men and women, were gripped by a scientific craze. Having first established good relations with the Undersecretaries of State, Franklin then gained entry to their patrician political masters. The latter included Secretaries of State such as the Earl of Shelburne and successive Prime Ministers from the Earl of Bute onwards…” (read on at mountvernon.org)

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