Step back in time at 18 Folgate Street

I find myself bristling a little when people describe something as unique. Like surreal and eccentric it’s one of those words that seems so carelessly overused that it’s almost lost its true meaning.

So imagine my discomfort when the best word I can find to describe my visit to Dennis Severs’ house is (horror) unique. What’s more, it’s eccentric too and perhaps even a little surreal to boot. Shudder.

{Alan Williams via Dennis Severs House}

Dennis Severs’ house is located at 18 Folgate Street in E1, yards away from Liverpool Street station but a world away from pretty much everything else. You could walk past it a hundred times without knowing there was anything special going on inside. There’s no sign, no list of admission prices, no queue of visitors. You book your arrival time in advance, curator David Milne meets you at the door, briefly outlines the plot and gravely instructs you that once inside you must stay completely silent as you explore the rooms.

{Richard Bryant via Somerset House Images}

Ours was a twilight visit and the house was lit only by candles. Each room forms part of an untold story, crowded with artifacts apparently abandoned by residents who fled moments before you stepped inside.

{via London Insight}

{via Jacqueline at Home}

Occasionally you hear a whisper of voices, a clattering of hooves or a whistle of wind in the chimney. Each room is filled with a myriad of scents – real fires burning in the grates, oranges, cloves, sickly-sweet wine and the remains of a half eaten breakfast. Somewhere between the silence, the heady fragrance and the darkness the atmosphere grows heavy and absorbing. When a black cat on a chair blinked at me, I nearly jumped out of my skin!


{via London Insight}

{via London Insight}

Stepping into each room is like opening a cabinet of curiosities, with objects painstakingly arranged to play their part in telling the story. From the fresh cream rose petals in the wash bowl to the dried cotton boll dusted with face powder, everything is arranged with a sense of accident that only comes with absolute precision. Any interiors stylist will tell you that making something placed look natural is an art in itself. It must take hours each day and years of practice to get everything just so.

{Alan Williams via Dennis Severs House}

The curator describes the experience of visiting the house like ‘stepping into a baroque painting’. Notes left on scraps of paper dotted around the house describe it as a ‘still life drama’. One note from Dennis Severs himself exclaims:

“What! You’re still looking at ‘things’ instead of what ‘things’ are doing?”

I was left wondering which objects in my home have something to say about me. And what stories they have to tell from before they became mine…

{Richard Bryant via Somerset House Images}

Reading this post back, I’ve done a pretty poor job of describing what it’s like to visit 18 Folgate Street. I can only hope that you’ll be intrigued enough by the inadequacy of my writing to go and experience it for yourself!

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  1. says

    Thanks Bethan. I LOVE these environments that are livable, breathable. They make you think in new ways. (And my Basha blanket is fabulous! It is an inspiration.)

  2. says

    Yes, it’s a magical place. I took my daughters there just before Christmas a few years back – they particularly enjoyed the real canary singing away in its cage in the parlour, and the cat curled up in the kitchen by the fire – I loved all the decaying surfaces and the whispers of the ‘inhabitants’. As we left snow had begun to fall and we walked across the river via Tower Bridge feeling very festive indeed!

  3. says

    Hello Bethan,
    Thank you for writing about this place! I visited today thanks to your write up and was blown away by the experience. Have to go back a second and maybe a third time to completely soak it up.


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