writing

The Day I Went Back in Time

Around eight or nine years ago, a friend told me about a place he’d discovered in Spitalfields, London.

“You must go,” he said. “It’s like travelling back in time. And go at Christmas, it’s extra special then.”

The place was called Dennis Severs’ House and I finally managed to visit just before Christmas. My friend had explained that it was part museum, part art installation. The house belonged to artist Dennis Sever (who died in 1999) and he used it to create the story of a family of silk weavers. As visitors move from room to room (in total silence, you’re not allowed to talk), they travel in time from 1724 to 1914, and each room is set up as though the family has just that second left. There’s no electricity, your journey is lit by fire and candlelight. Each room has its own style from the period – you start in the cellar and work upwards through the years. The floorboards creak as you climb the stairs and because there’s no talking, you hear so much more. Some rooms have half-eaten meals (real food) abandoned on the tables and the air is full of enticing scents. The boudoir had a cat purring on the bed that I thought it was stuffed until it turned its head to stare at me. And at Christmas time, every room is decorated in the festive style of that period.

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There are details everywhere – letters, invitations, items of clothing. It’s like a riddle waiting to be pieced together, a game the ghost of Dennis Sever wants you to play. The motto of the house is ‘You either see it or you don’t’ and I’m sure there was a lot I didn’t see, purely because there was so much to take in. I’d love to go back, maybe next Christmas, for an evening visit with a group of friends so I can appreciate the candlelit magic more, to travel in time again.

If someone walked into your room, what would it tell them about you?

6 thoughts on “The Day I Went Back in Time

  1. Ooh, Dennis Severs House is one of my favourite places in London! I’ve been there a few times, and the Christmas candlelit evening is just magical. But it’s lovely to go to in the daytime too – you do see things that aren’t obvious on the evening tour. It’s open Monday lunchtimes; maybe we should plan a springtime, daytime, back-in-time visit together!

  2. I lived down Folgate street in the late 80s – (and strangely am writing a scene set there this morning). Such an interesting part of London. Saw Dennis a lot (an eccentric American) and Gilbert and George , but London has always felt like a place where everyone else is having a much better time than you. My friend Sean does a really good tour of Whitechapel as part of his Charles Booth Walking Tours.

  3. I so want to go here! My Mum and Dad visited last year and they said I’d love it – I grew up in and old house so have often asked the question – what would I say??

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