In the heart of London’s historic East End, where the streets are still cobbled, and Jack The Ripper walking tours wander the night, one of London’s most eccentric museum experiences is hidden behind the doors of 18 Folgate Street. There is no sign outside to tell you what’s within, so you could mistakenly walk past Dennis Severs House, and not even know it’s there.
Created and designed by Dennis Severs, an eccentric American anglophile, in the 70’s, 18 Folgate Street is one of London’s more unusual places to visit. On entry, you have to remain silent, and no photography is allowed, so the interior photographs seen here are taken from the website.
The museum is a series of rooms that show what life was like in London in the past, but it’s not a mere series of historical anecdotes and dioramas. The house tells a story. Each room is designed to look, feel, sound and smell like the inhabitants are in residence and have just left the room. The kitchen smells like bread, the scent of perfume permeates the master bedroom.
Dennis Severs created the Jervis family as the inhabitants of this house, and their lives and passions are displayed throughout the rooms. He wanted to create an artwork that used the human imagination and emotion as an immersive experience. he hoped that by being in the space we would feel affinity with the inhabitants, and not look on them as museum pieces in a detached way. Through this, we might start to look at our own lives as part of history too.
Whether or not the museum changes your perception is perhaps a personal one, but it’s a fascinating place. Being able to walk around and listen to the world and experience it as it was is a wonderful thing. Particularly moving were upstairs rooms, which show how hard life truly was for the underclasses in London in past days. You really get a sense of what poverty and wealth meant in real terms.