This time last year we had an extraordinary candlelit treat; a visit to a ‘hidden London’ location…18 Folgate Street in Spitalfields, also known as Dennis Severs House.
This extraordinary house which dates back to 1724 has been transformed into a living museum of 18th century life as experienced by a family of Huguenot silk weavers. It amazes me that Dennis Severs lived here for twenty years just as his imaginary family of French silk weavers would have with absolutely no modern conveniences. As a visitor you experience ‘a still-life’ drama lovingly recreated, complete with sounds, smells & the atmosphere of a perfectly restored Georgian house. From the moment you arrive & are greeted on the doorstep you sense something unusual is about to unfold. A visit in silence is essential if you are to experience this historic gem as the creator intended; in silence & with an open mind. The motto of the house is Aut visum aut non! You either see it or you don’t! This is all too true but I was completely entranced by the sights & atmosphere & the sensation that I had just missed the occupants who may be in another room & that if you’re quick enough you may catch a glimpse of them…it really does feel as though you are having a snoop around the house while the family are there!
Of course being a soft furnisher I had to know more about the lavish period curtains & blinds! I also knew that the house had been in a very run down state when the eccentric artist,Dennis Severs, bought it & I was intrigued so after our visit I contacted the curator to find out more…he very kindly sent me this reply:
“Thank you for your kind words, im so pleased you enjoyed your visit and journey into the past. I shall do my very best to answer your questions regarding the textiles. The Red silk damask in the dining chamber is late 17th century, I think they were once part of a bed and its curtains, the bed being the most expensive item in the house due to the quantity of silk needed. I purchased these some years ago to replace the rotting cut silk velvet that now lives in the dickens room along with its bed curtains which are all 19th century silk velvet. The curtains at the landing window, are most likely 19th century damask, they were originally placed there by Dennis, hung in place with nails a static display. Over the years ive re hung virtually all the curtain dressings around the windows so they can be removed for cleaning etc thus prolonging their life.The raw silk on the drawing room is about 30 years old now and its an ongoing project of mine to slowly re hang them as they are but with hooks and not nailed and pinned as they mostly still are. Dennis bedchamber, again his creation but one that ive repaired, sewing the curtain hems and braids by hand and placing the curtains on runners so we can create drama within the chamber by closing and opening the bed curtains. The window blinds are very good, professionally made, the window dressing is 19th century silk Damask. Bought many years ago when fabrics of this nature were still easily found”.
The history & ideas behind the restoration of this unique house are truly remarkable. We visited during a ‘Silent Night’ tour but I’d love to go back during daylight hours for a different experience.
Dennis Sever’s House,18 Folgate Street, Spitalfields, London E1 http://www.dennissevershouse.co.uk