Benjamin Franklin at West Wycombe Park
2018 marked 250 years of a great and unusual transatlantic friendship between Benjamin Franklin and Francis Dashwood of West Wycombe Park
Benjamin Franklin, one of the greatest of the Founding Fathers of the United States, spent 16 years of his long life in London. 36 Craven Street is now the Benjamin Franklin House museum and education centre. It is unique in being the only one of the many homes in which Franklin lived, on both sides of the Atlantic, that still survives to this day.
But Franklin also had a home from home in the country. He was a regular guest at the Dashwood estate of West Wycombe Park in Buckinghamshire and a great friend of Francis Dashwood, Lord Despencer.
An unlikely friendship
What could the American patriot have had in common with the leading light of the Hellfire Club? The answer was a great deal indeed. In his early life, Dr Franklin was far from being the American patriot of his final years. He not only considered himself to be British but he was one of the keenest supporters of a Great British empire of North America.
As for Francis Dashwood, the meetings of his Hellfire Club were never as outrageous as reported and in any case had by this time ceased. The Dashwood of the 1760s was a serious politician: he was Chancellor of the Exchequer 1762-3 and in 1766 was appointed Joint Postmaster General.
Benjamin Franklin was Deputy Postmaster for America, despite living on this side of the Atlantic. The two became firm friends, based on intellectual interests, a sense of fun and a shared enjoyment of the aristocratic luxury of West Wycombe Park.
" ‘I am in this house as much at my ease as if it was my own, and the gardens are a paradise.’ "
As the relationship of the American colonies and Britain soured, so did that between Benjamin Franklin and the Government. Thus West Wycombe was not only a summer home for Franklin, but also a place to rest from his constant efforts to save the Anglo-American relationship.
Franklin would recognise the house today
Any visitor to West Wycombe Park would find no difficulty in recreating Franklin’s visits as he would recognise his surroundings. The glorious grounds and lake are still there and the house’s marbled entrance hall has been restored to its 18th century splendour. Some rooms have changed their function, for instance the 18th century breakfast parlour is now the Blue Drawing Room, but a returning Franklin would remember its wonderfully Bacchic ceiling.
West Wycombe Park is second only to Benjamin Franklin House as a place for imagining Franklin’s life in Britain.
Benjamin Franklin House museum and education centre is one of our London Partners. National Trust Members are entitled to half price entry at Benjamin Franklin House benjaminfranklinhouse.org