Historians Were Petrified When They Found One Founding Father’s Basement Filled With Human Bones

It’s 1998, and some workmen in London are busy refurbishing a charming Georgian house just around the corner from the River Thames in the heart of London. One of them is working in the basement when he makes a shocking discovery: human bones. Police are summoned, but analysis later shows that they are 200 years old. But what’s really startling is the identity of the man who lived in this house two centuries ago: Benjamin Franklin.

36 Craven Street

The property we’re talking about is on a terrace of charming four-story brick-built homes. Number 36 is Grade I-listed, the highest conservation status a building can have in England. The listing comes not just from the architectural merit of the house but from the fact that it was home to Benjamin Franklin for 18 years. He spent that time in London as an important diplomat, linking the colony of Pennsylvania with Britain. 

18 years in London

In fact, Franklin’s first visit to London came as early as 1724 when he sailed across the Atlantic to further his career in printing. On that occasion he stayed only for a couple of years, but when he returned in 1757 it was for a much longer stay. In fact from that year until 1775, he spent just 18 months in the American colonies. 

William Hewson

So the connections between 36 Craven Street and Franklin are strong. Built in 1730 the four-floor house with basement was relatively new when Franklin first moved there in 1757. The first occupant had been one John Hodson but in 1748 Margaret Stevenson took on the lease: it was she who would become Franklin’s landlord. Stevenson had a close link with Franklin because she was the mother-in-law of his good friend, William Hewson. We’ll hear more of him later.

“Pretty genteel”

The house was built with wooden paneling in many of the rooms, and four stories were above ground, with the basement below. Franklin only rented part of the building and seems to have been quite happy with his London home. In a letter to his wife Deborah, who stayed in America, he wrote, “I lodge in Craven Street near Charing Cross, Westminster. We have four rooms furnished, and everything about it is pretty genteel.”