A Christmas Tradition - Dennis Severs’ House
Imagine being in London at Christmas..... Please. I should have said 'please'. Now picture your perfect festive day, out and about in Town, and full of the joys of the season. (From this point on, just imagine that I'm saying 'please'). You wake up - always a good start. You throw open the curtains, pull up the blinds, or cast off the eye mask, and there's a shimmering of white as far as the eye can see - Not snow though -Frost! A much better option when actually having to go out and do things. The sky is blue, the temperature crisp and the air is still. This is how I picture it. I like those foggy London days too but we're busy people and it can just get in the way when you have unreadable books to buy, unwearable socks too, and uncooperative wrapping paper to shout at. You've risen late, so it's a late breakfast, .... out. Must be out. People watching just before Christmas is a must. They look petrified on the whole. They're only scared of time, of budgets and of celebrity chef mince pies. So find somewhere cosy and feast - Set yourself up for the day. After this, a day in Hampstead and walking the Heath is pretty Christmassy. A Dickensian play in the West End is something festive, High Tea, Welsh Rarebit at Fortnum's..... Whatever you choose, and your options are open and varied; you must choose Dennis Severs' House. At about 6 o'clock, after the Christmas lights have long shone, you should find yourself in Spitalfields, on the cobbled terraced thoroughfare known as Folgate Street. You should be having a Guinness or a port, a mulled wine or a malt whiskey, in The Water Poet pub. You should be here relaxing before crossing the road to number 18. Here sits Dennis Severs' House, and a visit is a Christmas tradition which, for me, grows and grows with every passing year.
The house was established back in the 1950's when Dennis decided to furnish the house in the style of an 18th and 19th century silk weaver and his fictitious family. 'Furnish' is an understatement, however, it goes far deeper than that. The windows are boarded, the silence is sacrosanct and the message is bold. "You are no longer in the 21st Century - Immerse yourself in the past.". Since his death, the house has been faithfully maintained as were his wishes, and is open to the public between 5pm and 8pm most evenings, albeit in very small numbers. You will need to book ahead, sometimes well ahead, as only a handful, 15 or so, are showed through at any one time, and with only 3 options an evening. I know, it really doesn't sound like much, but it is. It really is. It's a living museum. You are transported back in time, in wonderful silence, and with the air thick with the fragrances of the day. Bergamot, cinnamon and orange spice - all inhabiting their own specific environments. Bergamots in the bedrooms to aid sleep, and cinnamon in the kitchen to hide the less pleasant odours of the day. You will climb creaking stairs and visits every room. Every floor depicting a different period of success, or poverty, that the family endured. Subtlety abounds, with gentlemanly coughs issuing from another room, the pipe still lit after entertaining friends, the fire glowing it's last. It's the Silent Night evenings that I choose - You should too, for it's a gem. It's a must see. It is unique, charming, captivating and totally 'Christmas'. Your perfect festive stocking is more empty without it. Not only that, you will return with other guests, on many, many occasions. It's now your London Christmas tradition.
It's still early too. It hasn't taken up your whole evening. Now, with the memories that you will take away with you, you can do as you please. Wander over to Shoreditch, take in a few pubs, and maybe supper somewhere, .... Where the men wear their beards long but their trousers short.
Each visit last approximately 45 minutes. Booking is essential via their website
18 Folgate Street
London E1 6BX