I gave three taps to the door with the ominous Egyptian door knob and timidly stepped inside number 18 Folgate Street in Spitalfields, London. Here, you can smell the past. You can see the dust that time has gathered, it bathes in the sunlight on the stairway. You can hear the age in the floorboards creaking above. The house at 18 Folgate Street is a true time capsule and sometimes it opens up.
Dennis Sever was the artist and creator of this time machine who lived in the house for nearly 20 years in much the same way as its original occupants would have done in the 18th century. That of course meant no electricity in the entire house, and there still isn’t, save for a few power sockets installed after his death for the curatorial team to continue running his living museum. Welcome to Dennis Sever’s house.
The 10 rooms of the brick George I townhouse are all lived in and used by a ghosts of the past– a family of Huguenot silk weavers to be more specific. An unmade bed has just been left by its sleepless occupant, a plate of freshly shucked oysters have been left by interrupted eaters. They always seem to be just out of sight, moving like shadows to another room as you enter one, a black cat brushes past your leg.
David Sever called it “still-life drama”, a unique spectators sport that provides visitors with a rare moment, a stimulation of the senses that David Hockney once rated it as one of the world’s great opera experiences. Candlelit “silent night” tours of the house invite visitors to time travel. “To enter its door is to pass through a frame into a painting, one with a time and life of its own”.
The game is that you interrupt a family of Huguenot silk weavers named Jervis who, though they can still sometimes be heard, but never seen. “A rare thing to experience first hand: the warm, smoky light captured by the Old Masters; the creak of footsteps on wood; whispers and opening doors; arresting reflections, mixtures, textures and smells; the ticking and chiming of clocks; a cat and a canary”.
This is no ordinary heritage museum– those don’t usually have their ceilings caving in, moths escaping from 18th century laundry hanging over the staircase and that unmistakable feeling of chasing ghosts. The basement even has the remnants of the leper burial plot from St. Mary’s…
If you’d like to book an experience at David Sever’s house, you can book a visit through their website. Group (£15 per person) and privatised visits are available. The ‘Exclusive Silent Night’ visit (£50 a head) includes a magical wander through the house’s ten rooms, in silence, after which you will be able to sit down by a roaring fire in a room of your choice. Champagne is served and the curatorial team on hand to answer all your burning questions.
This is what the candlelight tours look like ↑
If you’re in London, I highly recommend ghost chasing at David Sever’s time capsule house. Find all the details and booking here.