Dennis Severs House, Spitalfields

March 2, 2020

Took a trip to Dennis Severs House at 18 Folgate Street, in an area towards the east of London called Spitalfields. It is a unique testament to the artistic vision of one man who was born in California but moved to London in the late 1960s and decided to disengage from the 20th Century entirely, preferring instead to immerse himself in the life of an 18th Century Huguenot immigrant from France.

 

The house was constructed in the early 1720s and Severs purchased it in 1979. He immediately set about regressing it, ripping out anything modern such as electricity or central heating and then proceeded to furnish the place in his own eclectic vision of what life would be like for an imaginary family who lived in the house over a 200 year period from 1750 onwards. On the night I visited, the entire place was lit by candles which made the overstuffed cornucopia of objects glint and glisten in a moody, theatrical, evocative and fantastically atmospheric way.

 

Given that there are timed entrances so there are never crowds of people marching through this delicate hose and you do so in silence, the experience is part meditative and part spooky. 10 rooms, from the cellar to the attic are laid out with a cursory nod to historical fact but this is, above all else, an immersive, sensory experience that should be taken as just that.

 

Although I have been in a lot of recreations of 18th Century rooms over the years, I strongly suspect that this place gives you more of an insight as to what it actually felt like to live in those times than those historically authentic and rather sanitised locations.

 

Everything from unmade beds, food (in various states of decay), dusty old curtains, warm inviting fires (with real logs burning, which can’t be legal in central London, but let’s not dwell on that), china, samovars, old wigs thrown over the backs of chairs; the list goes on and on. Temporary suspension of belief is the order of the day here and if you can do that, you will find yourself in an experience like no other and which was described by David Hockney as ‘standing amongst those of the world's great opera experiences’.

 

Definitely worth a visit.

 

You are not allowed to take any pictures, so I have pinched all of these from the web to give you a flavour. Hope that’s OK!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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