Fine example of an early 4-floor Queen Anne town house with original panelling, open staircase and famous 'swinging panels' on the open-plan first floor. Johnson compiled his famous 'Dictionary of the English Language' (1755) here.
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Dr Johnson’s House is a fine example of a Queen Anne townhouse in the City of London. The four-storey historic house is Grade I listed. The exact date of construction is unknown but it is likely to date to the very end of the seventeenth century.
The House was built by a wool merchant, Richard Gough, whom the Square is named after. The House’s most famous tenant was Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) who lived in the House for about 11 years (c.1748 to 1759). Johnson compiled his monumental Dictionary of the English Language in the Garret at the top of the House.
Following Johnson’s residence, the House became a small hotel/lodging house and was even used as a printers’ workshop in the nineteenth century. By 1911, however, it had fallen into a sad state of disrepair and was due for demolition. At this point Cecil Harmsworth stepped in to save the House: he bought it; restored it and opened it to the public. Remarkably many early features remain in the interior, despite its chequered past. The restoration was overseen by architect Alfred Burr. The small dwelling next door was built by Burr for the house’s curator to live in – a purpose it still fulfils today.
The House has a red brick façade with rubbed brick window surrounds and platbands. You can see the change in brickwork at the top, where a new roof had to be constructed following wartime damage. Between two ground floor windows on the main façade, the house has a very early example of a Royal Society of Arts terracotta plaque (installed in 1898) commemorating Samuel Johnson’s residence here.
Key points of architectural and historical merit and interest:
- The fine front door (c.1775) complete with anti- burglary devices: a large chain with corkscrew latch, a spiked bar across the fanlight window and two large bolts
- The curious hinged panels on the first floor which could be used to subdivide the room forming a central landing and two side rooms. Today they are positioned ‘open plan’, with an alcove behind
- Early wooden panelling on the ground, first and second floors and many original floorboards
- The open staircase that stretches through the four floors of the House, with original banister, and original balusters in the uppermost flight
- Two long thin log cupboards next to the fireplaces in the Withdrawing Room (1st floor) and the Garret (behind the Dictionary display case)
- Powder closet in the Parlour (ground floor) where Johnson would have stored his wigs
- The ‘cellarette’ cupboard in the Dining Room (today the shop/reception) which would have been used to store expensive food and drink