Monday, 12 December 2016

Christmas in an East London Time Capsule

We stood nervously outside the imposing black front door at 18 Folgate Street in East London, tip toeing inside when it opened slowly... The smell of Christmas past,
the cinnamon, the oranges, the mulled wine hanging thick in the air, the ageing floorboards creaking above our heads. We were at Denis Severs' house, a living museum in the heart of London's historic Spitalfields, for a Christmassy candlelit tour – in silence – followed by mulled wine and mince pies by the fire. Sssshhhhhh.

Denis Sever, an eccentric artist with a vivid imagination who created this time capsule, lived in the house for nearly 20 years in much the same way as its original occupants would have done in the 18th century. That of course meant no electricity in the entire house, and there still isn't, apart from a few power points installed after his death for the curatorial team to continue running his living museum.

The beautiful brick Georgian townhouse has 10 rooms, all lived in by the imaginary Jervis family of Huguenot silk weavers. Server called it a 'still life drama', a kind of unique theatrical experience in which you're invited to time travel, "to enter its door is to pass through a frame into a painting, one with a time and life of its own," the "art" changing year round to reflect the season. 

The idea is that you follow the family's fortunes through the generations, the sights, smells and sounds of the house. You see each room as you'd just interrupted the family, though they can still sometimes be heard, but never seen. In this case, we experienced Christmas as the family would have done through time, as their fortunes diminished. "A rare thing to experience first hand: the warm, smoky light captured by the Old Masters: the creak of footsteps on wood; whispers and opening doors; arresting reflections, mixtures, textures and smells; the ticking and chiming of clocks; a cat and a canary."

We walked around in candlelight, but here's what the house looks like during the rest of the year, in the day time... 

Denis Severs' house is open for various tours and experiences year-round, with the popular Christmas installation returning again in November 2016. So if you're in London any time soon, or like to plan ahead, I highly recommend taking one of the intriguing 'Silent Night' tours. Find out all the details and how to book here.

(Photos by Roeloff Bakker)



  1. I am so going here Ellie!!
    Thank you :-) xx

    1. You're welcome! You won't regret it - it's fascinating. I love hunting down these places...x

  2. I'm in>>>>>!! I adore history and art as well. So, of course I yearn for this "Time Travel" life!! Isn't that something, what an ingenious little hideaway. I felt it...great tour, thanks Ellie. "cat and canary" I was giggling :)
    ~Cooks Falls Lodge~