Dennis Severs’ House Review: At last I managed to have a nose around the famous Dennis Severs’ House, 18 Folgate Street, Spitalfields, East London. I say at last because I used to work on this street and I never did get around to popping inside. Mum was visiting last weekend, so I thought she might enjoy it, which she did. If you love looking around historic London houses or you want unusual things to do in East London, you’ll love this magical experience of an early eighteenth-century home.
“The Dennis Severs’ House Tour experience is extraordinary and well worth queuing up to get a glimpse of this preserved slice of 18th and 19th-century life. Thanks, Dennis Severs for having the imagination and the determination to stage an entire house and welcome the public inside for a peek,” Homegirl London
Artist, Dennis Severs, lived inside 18 Folgate Street, a Georgian terraced house near Spitalfields between 1979 to 1999. The property dates back to approximately 1724 and has Grade II listed status. Severs created what you could call a still life drama of a fictitious family of Huguenot silk weavers (a religious group of French Protestants). The house has ten rooms spread over four floors and the basement. The rooms are in various historic styles covering the 18th and 19th century. Before his death, Severs bequeathed the house to the Spitalfields Historic Buildings Trust which is why you get the privilege of seeing inside this stunning time capsule of a home.
The Dennis Severs’ House Tour
When you arrive at the house, you will probably see a queue outside so get there early if you can. They let about ten people in at a time in slots of approximately 10 minutes. As you approach the front door, you receive a short introduction to the house. There are a few rules to bear in mind which include conducting the tour without talking, putting your phone on silent and not taking photographs. The only light source is candles which you shouldn’t touch. Make sure you don’t get too near to the candles; otherwise your coat may go up in flames. Hold your bag to the front of you to avoid knocking anything over so please leave your bulky backpack at home.
Mind the big step at the front door. Pay your entrance fee in cash, and then you are ushered down to the basement. The stairs are steep and dark so take it slow. Mum had a bit of a problem getting down these stairs so if your eyesight isn’t good or you’re a bit wobbly on your feet perhaps avoid the cellar. Don’t wear heels to help maintain the floors, and you won’t want to be wearing any when you see how steep the stairs are.
As you move through this house, the viewing space is quite cramped due to the ‘room sets’ and the fact that this is a terraced house so quite narrow. There will be a person stationed on each level to keep the flow of ‘house guests’ in check. Sometimes you will need to wait a short while before given admission to a room but be patient because it’s worth the little lingering time on the creaking landing.
Each room set gives the impression that the family members have just left the room. You feel like you’re snooping around somewhere you shouldn’t be, which is thrilling and adds to the sense of drama. The staging for each room is intriguing, beguiling and atmospheric. With cobwebs, dust and dark corners, you expect a ghost to be hovering above you. Just don’t watch a scary movie the night before you go otherwise, you might feel a little twitchy.
Some of the rooms, like the dining room, are grand with oil paintings and beautiful ornate antique furniture. Look a little closer, and you’ll spot a wig slung over the back of a chair and half-eaten food. The Drawing room is another opulent affair. Other rooms are cluttered with a lot to see, and you’ll probably miss quite a few things as someone else will be trying to get into the room for a peek. Don’t dilly dally, open your eyes wide and take in as much as you can.
When you reach the attic look up, and you’ll notice the ceilings caving in and cobwebs in the corners. I enjoyed the squalor juxtaposed with the finery of the more magnificent rooms which guests would see.
On leaving the house, you’ll enjoy getting some fresh air and daylight, unless you go to an evening opening that is. It will then hit you what you’ve just witnessed, and you’ll want to dash back inside to see the things you may have missed. Even though the family at 18 Folgate Street are fictitious, you’ll want to call around again for another snoop soon. It’s a unique, one of a kind house to visit so make sure you put it on your list.
Dennis Severs’ House Information
To find out more, go to the Dennis Severs’ House Website. The address is 18 Folgate Street, London E1 6BX. The nearest station is Liverpool Street. You can take a tour on Monday from 12 noon until 2 pm with the last admission at 1.15 pm. We took the Sunday daytime tour which is 12 noon until 4 pm with the latest entry at 3.15 pm. No booking necessary for either Monday or Sunday, entrance is £10 or £5 for very reasonable concessions. Silent Night tours take place on Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 5 pm until 9 pm. You need to reserve this, and the price is £15. Check the website for other viewing options, including the Exclusive Silent Night, which is a two-hour visit with the opportunity to sit down and sip a glass of champagne, cheers to that! Read my Ten Things To Do In Shoreditch and Splendid Sunday Spitalfields Historic Tour Itinerary articles which may be of interest.
Author: Homegirl London. Photographs: Courtesy of Dennis Severs’ House by photographer Roelof Bakker. Thanks: Homeboy and Mum for visiting with me.