Just around the corner from one of London’s busiest modern day transport hubs sits a quiet house in a stately street. The old lantern outside the door hints at what lies inside: an historical time capsule that is worlds away from Liverpool Street’s hustle and bustle. Behind its doors, 18 Folgate Street holds an imaginative still-life drama without any visible actors – except for the resident black cat.
Dennis Severs, a Californian obsessed with English history, moved into the property in 1979 and set about restoring each of the ten rooms to represent a different historical period, from the 1700s to the early 20th century. Three generations of the fictitious Jervis family are woven through the portraits and armchairs, bedspreads and knick-knacks that litter the place. But this is not a museum, and its contents aren’t preserved with glass cases or placards. This is a lived in house, whose inhabitants have supposedly just left the room, and their presence can be felt throughout a visit there.
Payment is taken on the doorstep, along with a finger to the lips and a heartfelt request to be as quiet as possible. Once inside, the candlelight reveals steaming teapots, freshly sliced boiled eggs, half eaten bread on the kitchen table. Tiptoeing past rumpled sheets in the bedrooms and ducking under wet washing hung across the stairwell gives the strong impression you’re trespassing in someone else’s home, but frankly its too fascinating to feel guilty. As the family’s wealth rises and falls throughout the centuries, the quality of their lifestyle changes too; moving further into the house introduces peeling wallpaper, thinner carpets and an accumulation of dust and cobwebs.
The scent of cloves and oranges, the flickering candlelight and an array of background sounds guide your senses in building an image of the unseen inhabitants’ lives, from the clothes they wear to the letters they’ve written. If you’ve ever imagined yourself stepping into a painting, this is the place to experience it for real. (Words: Flora Baker, Pics: Roelof Bakker)
The museum opens every Sunday afternoon & Monday lunchtime and costs £10. For more info, visit www.dennissevershouse.co.uk