Open House Festival

The Swedenborg Society

community/cultural, library, museum, art in the public realm, concert/performance space, education

Unknown, 1760

Swedenborg House, 20-21 Bloomsbury Way, WC1A 2TH

Grade II-listed Georgian domestic building c.1760, formerly part of Bedford Estate. Interior refurbished 1924-5 to form lecture hall (restored 2014), library, bookshop and offices. Oak woodwork and green Doulton tiles line the staircase.

Getting there


Holborn, Tottenham Court Road


Euston, Charing Cross, City Thameslink


8, 19, 38, 55

Additional travel info

There is an underground car park beneath nearby Bloomsbury Square.



Accessibility notes

Assisted step free access via portable ramps for the ground floor only (bookshop, Swedenborg Hall and gallery space). There are no lifts.

What you can expect

The bookshop and café will be open. Plenty of seating available in the hall, which will be screening a looped documentary about Swedenborg.


Swedenborg House Today

Swedenborg House is home to a wide range of cultural, artistic, educational and intellectual activities related to the work and legacy of Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772).

It boasts a bookshop, a museum and gallery space, an exhibition and lecture programme, reading rooms, a unique historical archive and library with a rare collection of artefacts, and Swedenborg Hall: a stunning neoclassical lecture theatre.

Built around 1760, Swedenborg House was originally a dwelling house and part of the Bedford Estate. It has since had a variety of uses (it was a brewery warehouse between 1914 and 1924) before the freehold was acquired by the Swedenborg Society in 1924 and it is now a Grade II listed building.

Founder members of the Swedenborg Society included the sculptor and artist John Flaxman and Charles Augustus Tulk, later a Member of Parliament and a close friend of Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

The building was extensively refurbished and enlarged in 1925/6 and has been the headquarters of the Swedenborg Society since then.

Activities and Uses

In addition to providing a lecture and conference programme featuring writers, academics and commentators from a variety of backgrounds (previous speakers have included Helen Keller, A S Byatt, Roy Foster and Marina Warner), Swedenborg House also stages exhibitions, an annual film festival and an artist in residency programme. Previous exhibitors at Swedenborg House have included Turner Prize winner Jeremy Deller, Bridget Smith, Jeremy Millar, Iain Sinclair and Brian Catling. Our education service caters for primary school children through drawing workshops; adult and older learner groups through lectures, seminars and reading groups; and postgraduate research through Ph.D. scholarships. We are currently establishing KS2 workshops for primary school pupils based on Swedenborg’s influence on Romantic and Symbolist poetry.

Recently established, the Swedenborg House museum cares for a unique collection of rare historical artefacts. The museum has a broad range of research resources including individual items relating to D T Suzuki, S T Coleridge, John Flaxman and J J G Wilkinson; plus personal effects once owned by Swedenborg himself. Only a small portion of items from the collection are on permanent display throughout the house. The rest of the collection can be viewed by appointment. An extensive Library is also housed throughout the building. The library is free to all members and material can be viewed by appointment with the Librarian. Its current holdings include the most comprehensive collection in the world of editions of Swedenborg’s works (in 30 languages); a large library of 19th-century books; an archive of photographs and lantern slides; rare individuals letters and other ephemera; a comprehensive selection of Swedenborgian periodicals and a large variety of books about Swedenborg.

Swedenborg House publishing produces high-quality translations of Swedenborg’s works in English and Latin editions. We also publish scholarly and academic studies, research tools, journals and reviews, introductory books, catalogues, study guides and biographies on the theme of Swedenborg’s influence and legacy. Current publishing projects include an Academic Journal, a popular series of introductory volumes and a Swedenborg Library Edition. We are the longest-standing publisher of Swedenborg’s works in the world today. All of these titles and many more can be purchased from our bookshop, which also offers a range of Swedenborg-inspired gifts, postcards, prints and other merchandise.

About Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772)

Described by Jorge Luis Borges as the most extraordinary man in recorded history, Emanuel Swedenborg is today acknowledged as one of the most important writers of the eighteenth century and a pioneering figure in the history of Western thought. Philosopher, theologian, visionary, scientist and statesman, he was a key influence on William Blake, Honoré de Balzac, Gérard de Nerval, W B Yeats, S T Coleridge, Fyodor Dostoevsky, C G Jung and many others, and his theory of correspondences is rightly understood as one of the defining influences on Romantic and Symbolist thought.

In cosmology he gave form to the nebular hypothesis for the origin of the solar system (once attributed to Kant and Laplace); in neurology he anticipated the role of the cerebral cortical substance in sensory, motor and cognitive functions; in psychology he laid the groundwork for the development of Jung’s theory of the collective unconscious and Freud’s theory of association; in philosophy he had a decisive impact on the work of Immanuel Kant, F W Schelling, R W Emerson, C S Peirce and the development of Pragmatism. His work has also shaped the reception of Zen Buddhism in the West via D T Suzuki; and, more recently, through Czesław Miłosz, Italo Calvino, A S Byatt and Iain Sinclair, we see his name re-emerge once more in relation to ‘pyschogeography’, ‘historical realism’ and ‘magical realism’. Of equal importance is his influence on science, religion and the visual arts.

Born in Stockholm in 1688, the third child of Jesper Swedberg, a Lutheran bishop, and Sara Behm, who came from a wealthy mine-owning family, Swedenborg graduated from Uppsala University in 1709, and then travelled across Europe for a number of years, seeking knowledge, learning crafts and publishing three volumes of poetry. In England he studied briefly with Edmond Halley (of Halley’s comet fame) and John Flamsteed (the first Royal Astronomer), and attended lectures by Isaac Newton. On his return to Sweden, he set up and edited the nation’s first scientific journal Daedalus Hyperboreus whilst working alongside the great inventor, Christopher Polhem, the pair also assisting Charles XII’s military campaigns with innovative engineering projects. He was appointed to the Royal Board of Mines in 1716 and completed works on numerous scientific subjects, including mathematics, geology and cosmology. He wrote the first Swedish book on algebra, drew detailed drawings of an early flying machine and designed a mercury air pump, an invention that would prove useful in the manufacture of x-ray tubes and light bulbs a century and a half later. Looking to solve a problem established by René Descartes of the division between mind and body, Swedenborg began a study of the soul and anatomy which resulted in the publication of The Economy of the Animal Kingdom (1740-1) and The Animal Kingdom (1744-5). These, alongside other numerous unpublished manuscripts, showed his deductions, particularly those on the workings of the brain, to be years ahead of his time. R W Emerson described The Economy of the Animal Kingdom as ‘an honour to the human race’.

In 1743, aged 55, Swedenborg suddenly ceased his scientific studies after undergoing a spiritual crisis, accompanied by vivid dreams and visions. He later wrote that at that time the spiritual world was opened to him, that he could visit the afterlife, and converse with angels and devils. In 1747 he began Arcana Caelestia (1749-56), a lengthy exegesis of the Books of Genesis and Exodus, followed in 1758 with his most famous and enduring work, Heaven and Hell. In these and other books, Swedenborg outlined his notion of correspondences: that everything in the physical universe corresponds to a spiritual value. Swedenborg’s theory, combined with his ‘philosophy of use’, have had great resonance in the succeeding centuries, influencing the Symbolist movement in literature and art, and reform movements such as abolitionism, homoeopathy, vegetarianism, children’s education and the twelve-step programme. Swedenborg published his mystical works anonymously whilst continuing to serve as a valued member of the Swedish House of Nobles, where he contributed papers on industry and financial reform. He died in 1772 in London.

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