Dennis Severs' House in Spitalfields, London: History, Mystery, Drama

by KathleenDuffy

Dennis Severs' House in London's East End is a fragment of times past, where paintings come to life, candles splutter and voices are heard in distant rooms.

Dennis Severs (1948-1999) came to London from California in the 1970s. He moved into the then run-down area of East London, Spitalfields, and bought an old house.

Spitalfields is an area where the French Huguenot silk weavers settled in the eighteenth century and Severs' house was typical of the type of dwelling these Protestants lived in.

Dennis Severs began to restore his house - and what a restoration it would be!

Dennis Severs' House - A Theatrical Experience

An imaginary home

Severs decided to take the building back to its historical roots by recreating an eighteenth-century Huguenot silk-weaver's family home. The exception would be the top floor which became home to an imaginary family of poor nineteenth century weavers. The end result of his unstinting devotion and creativity, imagination and theatricality, is a unique experience which defies categorisation.

Interior Folgate Street


Visitors stepping over the threshold become like ghosts from the future - for the house seems as though it is inhabited by people from the past. In fact, that is exactly what you are encouraged to believe.


The family of silk weavers is called Jervis and you are asked to imagine that your entrance into their home has interrupted them as they go about their daily lives. As you enter their living spaces they disappear, yet you can hear their voices drifting in from other rooms.

Image above is from his book,  Folgate Street by Dennis Severs from Amazon.

Candles flicker, fires burn in the grates, the beds are unmade and there is a pile of laundry in one corner. A meal is left unfinished, a chamberpot needs emptying, Mr Jervis has left his wig on the back of the chair - you know it is his because his portrait is above the mantlepiece, and in it he is wearing said wig.

The clock ticks and from the street outside comes the sound of horses' hooves. The rooms are in turn richly opulent and sadly simple, scruffy and sensuous, claustrophobic and quirky.

Dennis Severs' House - Social History in a Time Capsule

There are five floors, some with chambers stuffed with the paraphernalia of Georgian artisan life. The effect is like that of a living painting, a Hogarthian etching brought to life. In fact, one room has a copy of a William Hogarth work on the wall showing a drunken brawl, which is actually recreated in the room itself. The glasses are upturned as are the chairs and the tablecloth is stained with wine. A picture within a picture...

Only on the top floor are things a little poignant, for here is where we leap forward in time to see how the poverty-stricken nineteenth century weavers lived in their rented rooms. Their washing is draped across the stairwell, the paintwork is peeling and the roof needs mending.

Dennis Severs' House - Entering into the Spirit of Another Time

The eagle-eyed will notice that not all the items in the house are historically accurate - yet, does it matter? When we visit the theatre we know the scenery in the opera is sometimes made of cardboard, yet it doesn't prevent us from giving ourselves up to the drama completely.

And we suspect that the inclusion of a Charles and Diana wedding mug amongst the piles of crockery is a jokey reminder that we are not all that different from these people long gone.

Ideas for Interiors

Books available from Amazon
The Well-Worn Interior

The most comfortable rooms in the world are those that have aged gracefully. Bearing the traces of their owners' lives and tastes, these spaces beckon you to enjoy them, to make...

View on Amazon

Old Houses [A National Trust for Historic Preservation Book]

This book captures the beauty and history of 20 American houses that have survived the ravages of time. The dilapidated elegance imparted by old wallcoverings and faded or peeli...

View on Amazon

At Home with the Past: How the Love of Old Things Creates Beautiful Interiors

How can you bring the beauty and grace of the past into your own home? The rich, idiosyncratic aura of bygone days evokes a sense of roots--whether grand or modest, playful or s...

View on Amazon

Silence is Golden!

Some visitors might be annoyed at being reminded that One Must Not Speak!

In order to really enter into the spirit of the journey the visit must be experienced in complete silence - very difficult when one comes across the real live cat sleeping in the window upstairs, which inevitably brings forth various "Oooh"s and "Aaaah"s.

There are even a few notices pinned up here and there asking visitors to be silent and 'just look'. Even the explanatory leaflet warns us that the experience mustn't be seen as merely 'ideal for visiting tourists or bored company directors' wives'.

Pretentious? Discriminatory? Well, maybe. But at the end of the day it's advisable not to take offence (especially if you are a company director's wife or a tourist) but just to immerse oneself in the completely delightful, challenging and moving experience that is Dennis Severs' House.


Take a Look Inside Dennis Severs' House

It's so atmospheric!

Dennis Severs' House - After Your Visit

The tour of the house lasts about forty-five minutes. Afterwards you might like to pop into the very good public house, almost directly opposite, called The Water Poet and yes, they encourage conversation!


The Water Poet Pub

You can find out more information about Dennis Severs' House, including times of opening and admission charges, on their website.




Vintage Hugenot Items for Sale

Updated: 07/13/2013, KathleenDuffy
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KathleenDuffy on 04/04/2013

Hello Toni - so glad that you enjoyed the article - this is a really amazing place to visit, unlike anything I've ever been to. I hope you manage to get there!

Toni on 04/04/2013

Hi Kathy well done again for introducing me to another new venue to visit whilst I am shopping in Spitalfields Market. The house looks so intriguing. Thank you again for introducing us to more delightful places around London.

KathleenDuffy on 03/27/2013

Thanks Georgette! Really glad you liked it - it's an amazing place to visit! :)

georgettejohn on 03/26/2013

Excellent made it so easy to "envision and experience". I enjoyed it!

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