Head left out of Liverpool Street Station onto Bishopsgate and eventually you will come across a narrow little road on your right-hand side – Folgate St. Halfway down it’s parade of handsome Georgian houses you’ll find a building that stands out a little – the conspicuous red shutters tell you that you’ve arrived at Dennis Severs’ House.
Conceived not as a museum but as an imaginary time capsule, Californian Dennis Severs set about restoring number 18 Folgate St in 1979, returning it to a state that would have been familiar to Londoners from the early 1700s onwards. Each of its ten rooms depicts a different historical period, and through hastily penned notes, half-drunk cups of tea and unmade beds we discover the lives of the fictional Jervis clan, who Severs imagined had lived in the house over several generations. From the cobwebbed coal store and shabby scullery in the basement via the fine Regency master bedroom with its heavy perfumed scent and delicate blue and white delftware to the Dickensian poverty of the foul-smelling garret up in the eaves of the building, you can feel the drama that Severs sought to create rising up from the creaking floorboards.
Dennis Severs’ theatrical illusion isn’t absolutely perfect – there are little oddities, such as a jug with a broken spout in the scullery which would have been immediately discarded rather than given pride of place on a side table for example, but taken as a whole the house is a masterpiece. If he had put his energies into set design on the stage or screen I’m sure that this man would have accumulated Tonys and Oscars by the armful. Instead we Londoners get a history lesson that I doubt is replicated anywhere else in the world…
I should warn you if you’re inclined to investigate Dennis Severs’ house for yourself that a strict code of silence is enforced once you step across the threshold, and that disturbing the careful arrangement of objects in the house is probably punishable by an extended spell locked in the outhouse. I wouldn’t test that theory though if I were you – the guide who showed us around yesterday looked rather fierce! Entry to Dennis Severs’ house is £10 per person, but check the official website before turning up as its opening hours are fairly irregular.