Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Afternoon Tea at Dennis Severs' house

Last Saturday was a real treat.  I had seen on Facebook that Bea's of Bloomsbury were hosting a pop up afternoon tea event at Dennis Severs' House and considering I had wanted to sample the cakes at Bea's and take a tour of Dennis Severs house it was a no brainer, it was booked literally within minutes of me seeing it!

For those that don't know Dennis Severs' House at No. 18 Folgate Street, Spitalfields, London.......



......is the creation of Artist, Dennis Severs who used the house as his canvas to create a life as it may have been lived in the early 18th century.  Dennis himself lived in the house in much the same way as the inhabitants of the 1700s which meant that not only did his visitors get to enjoy this unique and extraordinary experience but he also got to enjoy the fruits of his labour.

The premise is that you interrupt the family of silk weavers named Jervis who whilst sometimes can be heard can never be seen, they are always just out of reach.  You know they've been there though by the things they leave behind, the smell of perfume in the room, the footsteps along the corridor, the low voices, the half eaten food, the half finished tasks.  When you enter a room, they have literally just left.


Normally the tour is conducted by candlelight and in total silence so you can experience a number of stimulations to your senses.  Dennis' goal was to 'provide his visitors with a rare moment in which to become as lost in another time as they appear to be in their own' (From Dennis Severs' website).  The house charts the times from the well heeled inhabitants of the 1700s to the grim existence of the attic dwellers in the 1900s.  There are 10 rooms in total and each are unique.  There is nothing to tell you about the rooms and who occupied them, you have to figure that out from the clues they've left behind.

As soon as we entered No. 18 I was overwhelmed.  It was quite unlike anything I had been to before and I actually felt a little tearful.  I had been very anxious about going to London and in a funny way I think this helped as I was so aware of my anxiety that I hadn't really thought much about the house and so had gone without much expectation.  This meant that my mind was completely blank from any preconceived ideas and I was able to have a clear head in which to absorb the sensations.  We were able to look round the house before our tea and we were also able to take photos which was a real honour as photographs aren't normally allowed.  There was only a small group so we were all able to go off and explore at our own pace and then choose a room to have tea.  The house is lit by candlelight and roaring fires so it takes a moment or two for your eyes to adjust.  We started off downstairs in one of the Georgian rooms which had been occupied by a well off gentleman.  I even managed to get Madge the cat in the photo although she was less than impressed!




We had tea in the Victorian mourning room.



Then we went to the Drawing room






Next it was the smoking room


Then the master bedroom.  What I wouldn't do to have a bedroom like this, absolutely beautiful.  The bed was unmade as though the lady of the house had just got up.

The Master bedroom
The Master bedroom
The Master bedroom
The Master bedroom
The Master bedroom
The Master bedroom
The Master bedroom

 TheParlour with a half eaten cream tea on the table.

The parlour
The parlour
The parlour
The parlour
The parlour

The Dickens room which happened to be my favourite with the falling down ceilings, torn curtains, threadbare furniture.

Dickens room
Dickens room

Dickens room

The upstairs attic room

Attic room
Attic room
Attic room
Attic room

And finally the kitchen in the basement

Kitchen
Kitchen

Our slot was for about 1.5 hrs and I think I sat and ate my tea for about half an hour.  I was literally itching to get up and explore the house again so I left Mark chatting to Theresa and Brian, the other couple in the lounge enjoying the tea and went off on my own.  I found the whole experience extremely moving and as I was going round the house I felt as though I was with the Ghost of Christmas Past and was listening in and watching the inhabitants of No.18.  The fact that there were people in some of the other rooms meant this was even more heightened as I could hear them but they couldn't see me as I snapped away.  It felt as though I was the invisible observer and No.18 was getting on with life without knowing I was there.  If I had been able to kick of my shoes and settle down there for the evening I would have done.  As soon as we stepped into the hallway I felt at home and as though we had shut the 21st century out.  I really didn't want to leave!

Make no mistake, this isn't a museum nor is it contrived or pretentious.  It is a truly wonderful experience which I heartily recommend for anyone who enjoys history.  You literally feel as though you have stepped back in time and that feeling stays with you for a long while after.

p.s I should just add that the tea was delicious from Bea's but I was so enthralled by the house that I haven't really mentioned it but it was delicious and the attention to detail perfect. 

12 comments:

  1. That is the most exquisite interior, and your photographs are stunning. I have seen this beautiful house on TV programmes but I can imagine it is much better to see it and soak up the atmosphere. Lovely post Fi.
    Jo xx

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    1. I'd never heard of it before Jo and then saw it on Julie's (The Cloth Shed) blog and knew that I had to visit. I was lucky that I happened upon the afternoon tea event by chance and that we were allowed to take photos because you aren't normally. Funnily enough I'd seen it on Britain's Best Homes the night before but you're right, nothing beats actually being there.
      Fi.xx

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  2. What a wonderful way to spend time. If there is another such event, I will go along....your photos are stunning as well. A great read. Thanks.

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    1. Can't wait for our road trip Julia!

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  3. Wow! I would love to do this. We are visiting London in August ... I have just visited the website and unfortunately our visit doesn't tie in with any of the evening tours but we culd probably do the Sunday afternoon one. Do they allow/is it suitable for children ... a well behaved 10 year old? M x

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    1. If you can fit in a visit then definitely try. Its near Tower Bridge as well so we wandered down there afterwards and had a bite to eat. I'm not sure if they allow children but I think it would be a wonderful and unique experience for a child and they can actually feel the history rather than just be told about it. I'd email Mick the Manager (his email should be on the website)as he is very helpful. I hope you do get to visit as it is well worth it.xx

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  4. Oh visiting has been on my list of things to do and now, visiting has moved right to the top of the list. Thank you so much for an exquisite insight to your visit. x

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    1. I can't recommend it enough Viv. If you get the opportunity to go then definitely go! Christmas time is meant to be wonderful and I bet the atmosphere would be amazing, gives me goose bumps thinking about it! Let me know if you do go and what you think. Fi.xx

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  5. Isn't it amazing... Best described as an experience rather than a museum. The Attic room was my favourite and even now I can smell the musty scent of decay as you climb the final staircase.
    Your photos brought back memories.
    Julie x

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    1. It really is Julie and it was thanks to your blog that I heard about the house! A truly unique experience and I can't wait to visit again.xx

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  6. Haha! We were the 'other couple' - love your site and pics are great! Theresa x

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    1. Haha, I've upgraded you to Theresa and Brian now!! wasn't it a brilliant afternoon, I would have been happy to stay for much much longer! Hope we get to see you again, maybe at Talliston?

      Fi.xx

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