Dr Johnson's House is a charming 300-year-old townhouse, nestled amongst a maze of courts and alleys in the historic City of London. Built in 1700 by wool merchant Richard Gough, (died 1728) it is a rare example of a house of its era which survives in the City of London (this refers only to the 'Square Mile' of the City area, as there are many other houses of this period elsewhere in Greater London) and is the only one of Johnson's 18 residences in the City to survive. Five bays wide and five stories high, it is located at No. 17, Gough Square, a small L-shaped court, now pedestrianised, in a tangle of ancient alleyways just to the north of Fleet Street. Johnson lived and worked in the house from 1748 to 1759, paying a rent of £30, and he compiled his famous A Dictionary of the English Language there. In the 19th century, it saw use as a hotel, a print shop and a storehouse. In 1911, it was purchased by newspaper magnate and politician Cecil Harmsworth, who later commented: "At the time of my purchase of the house in April 1911, it presented every appearance of squalor and decay … It is doubtful whether in the whole of London there existed a more forlorn or dilapidated tenement." He restored the house and opened it to the public in 1914.
The Permanent Collection has 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 Johnson’s 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 Johnson’s 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. A recent addition is 'London: A Poem' 'In Imitation of the Third Satire of Juvenal'. Johnson composed London shortly after his arrival in the city. His satirical allusions to financial problems, immigration, corruption and crime reflect his observations of public concerns during the 1730s - and read very much like some newpapers and politicians today! Unfortunately the narrow staircase and steps at the entrance mean the building is not wheelchair accessible. There are audio tours available, free of charge, for the visually impaired.
Location : 17 Gough Square, London EC4A 3DE
Transport: Chancery Lane (Central). London Buses routes London Buses routes 4, 11, 15, 23, 26, 76 and 172 stop at Fetter Lane.
Opening Times: October to April.
Monday to Saturday 10:00 to 17:00
May to September until 17:30
Tickets : Adults £4.50, Children (5 - 17) £1.50
Concessions £3.00, Carers Free
Tel: 020 7353 3745.