Thursday, September 17

Thursday Drive: Severs House, Spitalfields

In 1965, while still in high school, California native Dennis Severs visited London and loved it so much that after graduation in 1967, he returned for good. It would be another twelve years before he found and purchased 18 Folgate Street in then down-at-the-heels Spitalfields in east London.

He saw the 1720s house as an opportunity to experience life before electricity and the other modern conveniences we take for granted today.

The story could've ended there.

"Eccentric American artist roughs it in run-down house in East End."

Yawn.

But Dennis Severs wanted to share that long ago time with the rest of us.

Toward that end, he studied paintings from the 1700s at the National Portrait Gallery, reasoning them to be the 18th century equivalent of color photographs of the period.

He then used that palette in the ten rooms of 18 Folgate to recreate how they might've looked when an imaginary family of Huguenot weavers inhabited them.

"To enter its door is to pass through a frame into a painting:
one with a time and a life of its own.
"

He did not envision the house as a living history museum, but as a "collection of atmospheres", an opportunity for visitors to experience rooms whose inhabitants have just stepped out for a moment. A half-eaten meal is on the dining room table, a fire burns in each of the fireplaces, family members can be heard talking in the hallway or the next room.

To get the full effect, visitors are instructed to remain silent during the tour, to use more than just their eyes to feel the rooms rather than simply "see" them.

It won't be quite the same as visiting in person, but I highly recommend the enchanting virtual tour of Dennis Severs' House.

Be sure your speakers are on, as it begins with the clip-clop of passing horses outside the front door and the ringing bells of a nearby church. Hit "Enter" and you'll hear the aforementioned snippets of conversation as well as footsteps of family members. After the virtual-audio tour, click on "The Plot" for information about each room.

(Sadly, Dennis Severs passed away in January 2000, at age 51.)

Two articles by people who knew him:
Edward Greenfield's A Neighbor's Recollections
Dennis Severs, by The Guardian's Gavin Stamp

See also Dennis Severs' House at Wikipedia

btw, it was recently brought to my attention by Mindfield of Hubpages that "Spital" is short for hospital. Thanks, Meg!


Have a great day everyone!

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5 comments:

Cal said...

This is amazing. Thanks so much for link too. I know where I'm going on my next day trip to the Capital to meet my son :>

JamaGenie said...

It's my understanding the evening visit in which the house is lit only by candles is the best. And do tell us all about it when you get back!

chris hale said...

I've passed the house on a couple of occasions but haven't visited, unfortunately. You may be interested to know that the BBC made a documentary about the place some years ago. It was called The house that refused to die, and was presented by Dan Cruickshank.

Duchess of Tea said...

Hello darling, please forgive me for not visiting your lovely blog this week… life was very hectic at Rose Tea Cottage!!! Hopefully things will calm down this coming week.

Have a sweet and lovely weekend.

Love & Hugs
Duchess ♥ ♥ ♥

Dustjacket Attic said...

Oh thankyou for the link, it sounds so interesting. I love the black with the orange shutters.
xoxo