Historic House Museums in London

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Benjamin Franklin's House

Benjamin Franklin's House

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Benjamin Franklin's House
Freud Museum
Dennis Severs' House
Charles Dickens Museum
Keats House
Linley Sambourne House
Sir John Soane's Museum
Dr Johnson's House
Khadambi Asalache House (575 Wandsworth Road)
 

 

Over the centuries, London has been home to some of the world's most famous writers, politicians, poets, artists and scientists. A number of these have left a permanent imprint of their lives on the city in the form of a historic house museum, so vistors can explore their former homes, refurbished and furnished much as they left it and surrounded by personal objects from their lives. LondonTown.com explores the ten best of these, from titanic figures like Charles Dickens, Benjamin Franklin and Sigmund Freud, to little-known artists and writers like Dennis Severs and Khadambi Asalsache.

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Benjamin Franklin House

London base of Benjamin Franklin between 1757 and 1775.

36 Craven Street, Covent Garden, London, WC2N 5NF

Tube: Charing Cross Station , Embankment Underground Station, Leicester Square Station

 
 

This Georgian terraced house was the London base of the great American statesman and key founder of the United States, Benjamin Franklin between 1757 and 1775. Benjamin Franklin House was essentially the first American Embassy, as Franklin struggled to contain the growing enmity between England and her colony. In his spare time, the great man pursued his own interests, including meeting the great men and women of the day and working on inventions - including bifocal spectacles, a new musical instrument and a fuel-saving stove. The house itself has been recreated as a 'Historical Experience'. Visitors receive a guided tour from Polly, Franklin's landlady's daughter, accompanied by appropriate sound effects and visuals, while Emmy-award winning actor Peter Coyote plays the part of Benjamin Franklin.

 
 
 

Freud Museum

Sigmund Freud's family home in Hampstead.

20 Maresfield Gardens, London, NW3 5SX

Tube: Finchley Road Station

 
 

Sigmund Freud's family home in Hampstead has been turned into a fascinating museum which features the psychoanalytic couch on which
Freud's patients would recline while being treated by him. Just
one of the many original objects on display in the Freud Museum, this comfortable couch covered in chenille cushions, atop an exotic, richly coloured Iranian rug forms the centrepiece of the museum which celebrates the life and work of Sigmund Freud and his daughter, Anna. 20 Maresfield Gardens became home to Freud and his family when they arrived as refugees in England having escaped Nazi-occupied Vienna in 1938. The Hampstead house represents snapshots of Freud's life both in England and in Austria. Freud - fortunate enough to bring most of his family belongings with him to England - made a note of the exact position of the effects in his study in Vienna and recreated this at his home in London. While a huge collection of over 2,000 Egyptian, Greek, Roman and Oriental antiquities fills the rooms, the building feels less like a museum and more a home waiting for its owners to return. Papers, books and notes, photos and home movies combine to create a sensitive and wholly personal exhibition.

Best for:
Freud family memorabilia, papers, books, couches and antiquities.

 
 
 

Leighton House Museum

One of the most opulent museums in London.

12 Holland Park Road, Holland Park, London, W14 8LZ

Tube: Kensington (Olympia) Station

 
 

Leighton House is one of the most opulent museums in London, and its small scale makes it easy enough to explore thoroughly in an afternoon. Located on the edge of Holland Park, this opulent 19th-century home of Lord Leighton is decorated with domed ceilings, fountains, and plenty of marble. Golden mosaics, gilded walls, elaborate paintwork, domed ceilings, trickling fountains, cool marble and peacock blue tiles make Leighton House worth a visit. Built between 1864 and 1879 on the edge of Holland Park, the home of classical artist Lord Leighton also became home to his extensive collection of Victorian paintings, including works by his contemporaries John Everett Millais, Edward Burne-Jones and George Frederick Watts. On the first floor is Leighton's studio with its great north window, dome and apse. One of the most stunning features of the house is the Arab Hall which forms the centrepiece to the house. Tiled with over 1,000 vibrant, peacock blue tiles from Iran and Syria by the ceramic artist William De Morgan, these provide an opulent theme that is carried out throughout the house. A £1.6 million refurbishment and restoration programme was completed in 2010.

Best for:
Oriental opulence, Victorian art and architecture.

 
 
 

Dennis Severs' House

A series of evocative snapshots of 18th century life.

18 Folgate Street, Spitalfields, London, E1 6BX

Tube: Liverpool Street Station

 
 

The brainchild of eccentric designer and performer, Dennis Severs' House at 18 Folgate Street captures, in a series of evocative snapshots, 18th century life as experienced by a family of Huguenot silk weavers. Built in 1724, Severs transformed each individual room within the red-brick Georgian terraced house into evocative tableaux vivants designed to draw the visitor into another world and another all-encompassing experience. Visitors or guests are invited to explore, in total silence - by fire or candlelight - each of the ten rooms. Smells, sounds, and sensations suck visitors deeper into each tableau, enabling them to piece together every scene to produce a living creation. This historic gem deserves to be experienced as the creator intended - in silence and with an open mind.

Best for:
Candles and creativity, 18th century atmosphere and ambience, history brought to life.

Also known as:
18 Folgate Street

 
 
 

Charles Dickens Museum

World's most important collection of material relating to the Victorian novelist.

48 Doughty Street, Bloomsbury, London, WC1N 2LX

Tube: Russell Square Station

 
 

Charles Dickens brought London to life with his imaginative depictions of city life and his fascination and passion for the foggy Victorian streets have inspired two centuries of readers. His iconic characters such as Fagin, Scrooge, Guppy, Artful Dodger and Magwitch have seeped into London's historical fabric and his fictional scenes have ingrained themselves in our everyday culture. The Charles Dickens Museum is the world's most important collection of material relating to the great novelist and social commentator. The 48 Doughty Street property is the only surviving London home of Dickens (from 1837 until 1839), author of such classics as 'Oliver Twist', 'A Christmas Carol' and 'David Copperfield'. The museum was opened here in 1925 and is still welcoming visitors from all over the world to its authentic surroundings. On four floors, visitors can see paintings, rare editions, manuscripts, original furniture and many items relating to the life of one of the most popular and beloved personalities of the Victorian Age.
 
 

 
 
 
 

Keats House

House in which John Keats lived for two years.

10 Keats Grove, London, NW3 2RR

Tube: Belsize Park Station

 
 

John Keats spent two years from 1818 to 1820 at Keats House, formerly known as Wentworth Place and now named after the Romantic poet. Reopened on 24th July 2009 after nearly two years closure, the rooms have been updated so that more artefacts from the collection of letters, manuscripts and relics relating to Keats can be displayed. These include the engagement ring Keats gave to Fanny Brawne, the girl next door whom he fell in love with. The Keats House building we see today is a combination of their houses, originally two semi-detached houses - this stunning Grade I Regency villa is far superior to the humble abode Keats would have known when he lived here. Sadly the lovers never married and it was from this house that he travelled to Rome, on the advice of his doctor. The moved failed to save him from tuberculosis and he died aged just 25. But it was while living here in rural Hampstead that Keats wrote the bulk of his most admired work and penned his famous 'Ode to a Nightingale' from under a plum tree in the garden. The gardens too been renovated with early 19th  century species reintroduced around the Mulberry tree which would have been there in Keats' time. As you'd expect, poetry is promoted and appreciated here through regular poetry readings, residencies and educational events.

 
 
 

Linley Sambourne House (18 Stafford Terrace)

Virtually untouched slice of Victorian living.

18 Stafford Terrace, Kensington, London, W8 7BH

Tube: High Street Kensington Station

 
 

For a virtually untouched and immaculately preserved slice of Victorian living, visit Edward Linley Sambourne a delightful museum and one of the few genuine Victorian townhouses that remains pretty much unchanged. The building, also known as 18 Stafford Terrace, has become something of a little known national treasure. Home to the Victorian cartoonist Edward Linley Sambourne and his family from 1874 it remarkably survives with almost all of its furniture and fittings intact. The house is found nestled amid a string of smart Kensington mansions at number 18 Stafford Terrace. When young Sambourne decided to move in with his new wife they opted to furnish their home in the modish aesthetic and artistic style of the period. Passed down to members of the family who decided to care for the house and preserve its traditional garb, it was finally handed over to the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea who - with the help of the Victorian Society - now take responsibility for its upkeep. Stained glass windows, fancy Oriental porcelain, dark patterned wallpaper, rich rugs, grand brass beds and ebonised wardrobes are just some of the Victorian goodies adorning the high-ceilinged rooms of this property. It's a bit of a jumble - a heady mixture of clutter and styles that really does typify Victorian decor. It's a deeply evocative place and somewhere unobtrusive, where you really do feel like you are stepping back into the past. All visits to the house are guided tour only with set tour times on Saturdays and Sundays and at other times by appointment. Weekend tours are led by an actor in period costume who not only shows you the best the house has to offer but also provides a compelling insight into the lives of the Sambourne family. Although there may be a limited number of tickets available to buy on the day, it is advisable to book in order to avoid disappointment. Incidentally, it is worth getting in touch with the property regarding their Christmas Twilight Encounter - an evening of Victorian intrigue and drama, during which you will be treated to a wonderful performance in the house whilst tucking into mulled wine and mince pies.

 
 
 

Sir John Soane's Museum

Former home of Sir John Soane, architect and art collector.

13 Lincoln's Inn Fields, Holborn, London, WC2A 3BP

Tube: Holborn Station , Chancery Lane Station

 
 

An appealingly higgledy-piggledy treasure trove of artefacts, the extraordinary Sir John Soane's Museum elegantly located on Lincoln's Inn Fields is well worth an exploratory rummage. Lurking in nooks and crannies within the sprawling rooms and halls of neo-classical architect Sir John Soane's former residence are over 30,000 architectural drawings and antiquities. Works by Turner, Canaletto and Piranesi feature in the painting collection, with William Hogarth's eight canvasses of 'A Rake's Progress' forming the centre-piece. Each of the many spaces in this museum has its own strong identity and appeal. From the domed ceiling of the Breakfast Room and the Gothic library, to the study with its Roman architectural fragments and the two courtyards crammed with ancient stonework, this is a house of diversity and architectural merit. One of the most intriguing rooms is the Picture Gallery. Here, walls made up of large folding panels unravel to reveal a host of pictures that would not normally have been accommodated in the small room space. Panels are opened on request to groups. Look out for the alabaster Egyptian Sarcophagus of Seti I dated 1370BC appropriately located in the basement 'Sepulchral Chamber'. Museum tours take place every Saturday at 11am.

Best for:
Neoclassical nooks and crannies, architectural gems, bones and stones.

 
 
 

Dr Johnson's House

Fine Georgian house where Dr Samuel Johnson wrote his famous dictionary.

17 Gough Square, off Fleet Street, City, London, EC4A 3DE

Tube: Blackfriars Underground Station

 
 

This fine home belonged to writer Dr Samuel Johnson (1709-1784), who lived here when he compiled what is recognised as the worlds first dictionary. Dr Johnson's House is located in a discreet City square and contains many of Johnsons belongings as well as an excellent statue of his favourite cat, Hodge, in the square outside. The contents of the house have been built up since Cecil Harmsworth purchased the House and opened it to the public in the early 20th century. He was adamant that Dr Johnsons House should not be filled with irrelevant 18th century bric-a-brac. Items in the collection had to be connected to Johnson and appropriate for the cheery home of an impoverished writer. Harmsworth turned down some donations, including Johnsons death mask (too gloomy) and Chippendale furniture (too fine). The Harmsworths donated many early items and the Johnson Club transferred their entire collection to the House. Over the years many generous donations of relevant books, paintings and artefacts have entered the collection. Dr Johnson's House runs a varied programme of events and exhibitions, ranging from staged performances to Curator's talks. There are special late night openings and open days, as well as concerts, lectures and some more quirky events. During the year there are also changing displays and regular temporary exhibitions to highlight objects from our collection and elsewhere, and to illustrate aspects of Johnson's life and times.

 
 
 

Khadambi Asalache House (575 Wandsworth Road)

Beautifully decorated house created by Kenyan-born poet and civil servant.

575 Wandsworth Road, London, SW8 3JD

Tube: Clapham Common Station

 
 

The hand-carved fretwork interior of this modest, early 19th-century, terraced house make it one of the most unusual and inspiring in London. 575 Wandsworth Road was acquired by the National Trust in 2010 because of the rich and striking interiors created by Khadambi Asalache (1935-2006), a Kenyan-born poet, novelist, philosopher of mathematics and British civil servant. He bought the house in 1981 while working at the Treasury, and over a period of 20 years (from 1986) turned his home into a work of art. Prompted by the need to disguise persistent damp in the basement dining room, he initially fixed pine floorboards to the damp wall. He went on to embellish almost every wall, ceiling and door in the house with exquisite fretwork patterns and motifs, which he hand-carved from reclaimed pine doors and floorboards found in skips.The house stands as he left it, with his painted decoration on walls, doors and floors and with rooms furnished with his handmade fretwork furniture and carefully arranged collections of beautiful and functional objects, including pressed-glass inkwells, pink and copper lustreware, postcards and his typewriter. It is open for tours in small groups through the National Trust but spaces are very limited so book well in advance.

 
 
 
 
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