London is rightly famous for its blockbuster museums. From the British Museum, filled with ancient treasures, to the National Gallery’s extensive collection, some of the best London museums are high-profile haunts that draw in the visitors in their droves. However, some of the city’s most exciting exhibition spaces are hidden behind closed doors, in nondescript townhouses that were once occupied by leading intellectuals, creatives, and scientists. We’ve selected six of our favourite townhouse museums that should be on any visitor’s itinerary. From your base in Bloomsbury’s The Montague on the Gardens, you’ll be perfectly placed to explore.
Sir John Soane’s Museum
Formerly the private home of architect Sir John Soane, the Sir John Soane’s Museum in Lincoln’s Inn Fields now serves as a lush, ornate testament to his career. Outfitted in lavish furnishings and architectural details (including a glass cupola), the house also holds Soane’s eclectic antiquities collection, in addition to numerous paintings and artefacts.
Charles Dickens Museum
Located in Holborn, the 19th century Charles Dickens Museum is situated in the Georgian house he occupied from 1837-39. It was here that he wrote Oliver Twist and Nicholas Nickleby, and the museum’s permanent exhibition shows the house as it was when Dickens lived there, complete with historical furnishings and personal possessions.
Dr. Johnson’s House
A 300-year old townhouse hidden away within the City of London, Dr. Johnson’s House was the home of great English writer and scholar Samuel Johnson from 1748-1759. He compiled the famed Dictionary of the English Language within its walls. Viewers can explore the exhibition of paintings, manuscripts, and artefacts, all housed in the restored, panelled interior.
Handel House Museum
German-born composer George Frideric Handel made his home here for almost 36 years, during which time he became a British citizen and wrote his Messiah. The Mayfair-based Georgian terraced house, which opened as the Handel House Museum in 2001, includes oil paintings, period furniture, and a restored rehearsal and performance room, and even hosts regular concerts. Interestingly enough, Jimi Hendrix also lived in the building in the 1960s.
Dennis Severs’ House
Set in Spitalfields, Dennis Severs’ House looks like a typical Georgian terraced house from the outside, but indoors it’s an extraordinary panoply of historical styles. Each room holds a unique collection of artefacts and historical furnishings, arranged just as they would have been during the period. When Dennis Severs was in residence, the eccentric artist described a visit to his house as a “still life drama.”
Benjamin Franklin House
Hidden in a terraced Georgian House close to Charing Cross and Trafalgar Square, Benjamin Franklin House is close to tourist sites but largely remains an undiscovered gem. It’s the only remaining Franklin home in the world (he inhabited the building from 1757-1777), and the home of the diplomat, inventor, and politician is considered the first de facto American embassy in the UK.
Image credits: Cover photo © Charles Dickens House © iStock / aisain13. London Museum Signs © iStock / grahamwhiles. Charles Dickens Museum © Flickr / jelm6. Benjamin Franklin House © Flickr / a_marga. Dr Johnson © iStock / chrisdorney.