building of the week, year, century, millennium

18-folgate-street3You have to go with the flow sometimes, make plans (for Nigel) by all means but also be prepared to think on your feet.  So after perusing the queue for the New Globe, and bizarrely missing Mr Onionbagblogger by just a few minutes, the Cabbie Family decided to head further east for lunch.  Over beigel’s from the legendary Beigel Bake in Brick Lane, it was decided that we would try “that house in Spitalfields” that I’d been mentioning on or off to the family for months.  Not sure if it would be open, or even exactly where it was, a quick Google search for “historic spitalfields house” came to the rescue.  Beigel’s consumed and a couple of photo’s of Arnold Circus taken we walked the short distance to 18 Folgate Street.  Being the London bore obsessive that I am, I’d heard a lot about this place, about how an American artist had found this Huguenot Weavers’ house and recreated the interior to match how he thought it’s previous occupiers would have lived.  But nothing can quite prepare you for what lies behind this grand looking front door. The only images you’ll see here show the exterior of the house, they don’t allow photography inside anyway, as there is little point just seeing what lies inside this amazing house out of context.

18-folgate-street-exterior2My daughter had been asking my wife & I earlier in the day what one wish we’d like to have come true.  After she disallowed anything altruistic and insisted that the wish be self indulgent in some way, wifey & I had opted for either teleportation (wifey) or time travel (me).  Little did we realise, that in a rather magnificent way, we would be able to do our own bit of time travel just a short while later.  From the outside anyway, 18 Folgate Street is not that unusual in and around the streets of Spitalfields, but this is only because of people like Dennis Severs.  Late 1970’s London was in danger of letting places like this be either knocked down or just fall into disrepair.  Luckily for those of us who care about these things now, London ran out of money to redevelop everything it wanted to (Tredegar Square still stands because they couldn’t afford the planned development), then the right sort of people bought and protected some of what was left.  Dennis Severs was certainly one of these people and after living in London since the mid to late 1960’s he found and bought 18 Folgate Street in the late 1970’s.  After spending many years living in and absorbing the atmosphere of the house, he then set about transforming it into it’s current state.  And what a state it’s in.
18-folgate-street-lamp2It’s tricky to really tell you what 18 Folgate Street is.  I can certainly tell you what it isn’t – it isn’t a museum, that’s absolutely clear from the talk (lecture?) you get from the man who takes your money.  But I am now, finally, going to try and explain what entering this house was like for me.  They ask you to be silent, partly because there is a soundtrack played throughout the house, partly to force you to contemplate what you are seeing. And this does help add to the atmosphere as you find your way around.  Walking into the  hallway, there is a immediate sense of stepping into another world.  This is taken to the extreme as you enter the first room on the ground floor which is full of the sounds, smells and sights of an 18th century family home. I was absolutely blown away to be standing their amongst what appeared to be a fully intact Huguenot family home, with birds singing, the families meal half eaten on the table and the sounds of the family moving about surrounding you.  This may sound stupid to many of you but it was such an intense feeling that I almost found myself welling up.  As you move around the rest of the house, the intensity doesn’t really let up. You see the house as it would have been at various stages from the early 18th Century to the mid Victorian era, all staged as though you have stumbled into each room just as the original occupants have got up and moved to another part of the house.  There are small personal items of Dennis Severs himself in the house, a baseball hat, the ashes to his beloved cat Madge (Madge III now lives in the house and was a particular star) but they are as much an integral part of the house’s history as anything else.  The overriding sense you get here is that Dennis Severs lived & breathed this house, absorbed it’s history and from that produced this magnificent monument to London history.  It has immediately gone to the top of my favourite London places (sorry @savewiltons) and I will now do my best to make sure that as many people as possible visit this amazing place.

If you do want a sneak preview to what the house has in store, click on the link below, but nothing will prepare you for the experience of visiting the house itself.  So, no excuses on this one; get your lazy ‘arris down there pronto.

Dennis Severs House, 18 Folgate Street, London, E1 6BX – go there soon.

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2 thoughts on “building of the week, year, century, millennium

  1. If you are swanning around that area of London again visit the Geffrye Museum in Kingsland Road well worth a visit, and at Christmas both museums put on a seasonal show.
    http://www.geffrye-museum.org.uk/
    Incidentally the architectural historian and broadcaster Dan Cruickshank has also renovated a house in Spitalfields, and lives in it.

  2. I just love little gems like this. Will certainly go and visit next time I come to London (soon). Could do with travelling into another era.

    If you have any more hidden treasures to uncover – please bring’em on!

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