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Samuel Johnson

17 Gough Square



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17 Gough Square

Dr Johnson’s House was built at the end of the seventeenth century by a City wool merchant, Richard Gough.  The timber-framed, brick townhouse, was part of a development in Gough Square, of which Dr Johnson’s House at number 17 is the only one to survive. 

The four-storey building has retained many of its period features, which include historic panelling, a fine open staircase, wooden floorboards, a quirky cellarette cupboard, coal holes and even the original door handles.  The eighteenth-century front door still has its historic anti-burglary devices intact, including a heavy chain with corkscrew latch and spiked iron bar over the fanlight.  Visitors can enter all the rooms in the House and sit down on the chairs and window seats to soak up the atmosphere.

Dr Johnson was a tenant at 17 Gough Square, and following his departure in 1759, the house went through a variety of different uses.  It had other lodgers, was used as a small hotel and bed and breakfast and was even a printers’ workshop and studio.  By 1911 it had fallen into a sad state of disrepair, with water leaking through the roof.  At this point it was saved and restored by Cecil Harmsworth, a Liberal MP.

During World War II, the then Curator and her daughter were granted permission to run an informal canteen at the House for the Auxiliary Fire Service.  The House later become a social club for the Auxiliary Firemen - known as ‘the heroes with the grimy faces’  - giving many a tired fireman some respite from the bombing during the Blitz and other air raids.  Dr Johnson’s House was struck on several occasions: the Garret was badly damaged and a new roof had to be constructed after the war but, remarkably, the fires were always put out in time and the House survived.
Dr Johnson's House in 1911, when being used as a workshop by printers Waller and Baines. Photograph of Dr Johnson's House in 1911 when in use as a printer's workshop.
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