Dennis Severs’ House

Dennis Severs House façade, 2010, photographed from Folgate Street
By Alanwill (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
 Last week we posted about Norton Folgate and the campaign to save it from the proposed British Land development. (And here is just a quick reminder that you can find out all about it and how to protest on The Spitalfields Trust website.)

This week we want to tell you about the place where we first heard about the campaign – Dennis Severs’ House at 18 Folgate Street. It’s a house in a quiet Georgian Street with rooms decorated in styles mainly from the 18th and 19th centuries, but it is not a museum or a stately home. It’s been described as a still life drama or a time capsule and is probably the closest that most of us will ever get to time travel!

Dennis Severs bought the house in 1979 and set about restoring it in an idiosyncratic manner. He wanted to live in the house in a similar manner as the original inhabitants would have done and to give visitors the experience of entering into a painting. When he died in 1999, the house passed to The Spitalfields Trust who maintain it in the same spirit today. The idea is that the house is occupied by a family of Hugeunot silk weavers called Jervis. Visitors never see them, but they are clearly nearby – probably just in the next room. There are fires in the hearth and food on the table. The beds have just been slept in and personal possessions are scattered about. Personal papers and little notes lay around. The only light is from candles and the visitors (who are only admitted in small groups) must be silent. Visitors are also unable to take photos so that’s why this post is rather visually lacking – which is a huge irony given how much there is to see in the house! (Although the combination of candle light and our photography skills would probably not do it justice). There are some wonderful pictures on the Dennis Severs’ House website so do please have a look at it. We’ve also put some pictures on our Pinterest boards.

And one of the most intriguing things is that there seems to be a mystery, or maybe even mysteries. Why is there a cup smashed on the floor? Clumsiness or temper? Was it just the collapse of the British silk industry that lead to the Jervis’ losing their fortune or something else? And we have a theory. About Sophie. But it seems indelicate to talk about it…

The house’s motto is ‘you either see it or you don’t’ and if you do see it, it’s the most amazing experience – unlike anything else. Even if you don’t get the magic, there are some wonderful interiors and the whole effect is indeed like inhabiting a painting.

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