Dr. Johnson's House
17, Gough Square, EC4
Except for a small plaque set into its exterior, the fact which speaks most strongly for the former fame of this fine Georgian town house is its survival.
For without its connection with one of Britain's best-known and best loved men of letters, 17, Gough Square, would almost certainly have disappeared without trace in the teens of this century.
Set in what is now a quiet backwater of the city, Gough Square was once at the hub of literary London. And this was so not just because Dr Samuel Johnson (1709 - 1784) made it his home for eleven years. Writers of every description crowded into the maze of alleys and streets that wove around the Fleet Street area, because it was the centre of the publishing industry.
In common with his contemporaries, Johnson moved to this district to be near his printer. And while the house at Gough Square was only one of many that he occupied in London, it is perhaps the one which best deserved to remain as a memoir. Here it was, after all, that the author poured his considerable scholarship into the first comprehensive English Dictionary - the book which was to make his reputation if not his fortune.
The garret where Johnson and his six copyists toiled over this momentous work must rate as the high point of a visit to this house. It is easy to imagine Johnson, in full wig and enormous jacket, pondering over his definitions in this gallery-like room, perhaps occasionally glancing out of one of the many windows over the rooftops of London for inspiration.
But it would be unfair to ignore the influence of Johnson in the other rooms of the house, especially since they have been carefully restored and contain many items of interest including, of course, a third edition of his dictionary. A facsimile version is kept on the parlour table, giving visitors the chance to marvel at the 40,000 words and 114,000 quotations that Johnson managed to compile in just seven years.
While living at Gough Square, Dr. Johnson frequently worshipped at his parish church of St. Clement Danes in the Strand. A statue to him stands outside the church.
17, Gough Square is open daily except Sundays and Bank Holidays May to September 11 a.m. - 5.30 p.m. and October - April 11 a.m. -5.00 p.m.
Admission is £3.00 for adults; £2.00 for senior citizens and students and £1.00 for children.
Chancery Lane (Central line), Blackfrairs and Temple (Circle & District lines)
Copyright © Jan Collie 2002
Published by permission of the author.
All rights reserved. No reproduction, copy or transmission of this publication may be made without written permission.