Museum #21. Dennis Severs House
Dennis Severs House is a 18th/19th century time-capsule in the depths of Spitalfields. It was devised by a man called Dennis Severs, a Canadian eccentric that travelled to the UK in the 1960s, in search of what he called ‘English Light.’
The concept revolves around an imaginary family – The Jervises. Each room is assembled to give the feeling that the family has just vacated, leaving behind cooking smells, spilled wine and more.
The phrase ‘As you enter, they leave. As you leave, they enter’ is pasted throughout the house. (If I’m honest, it gets a bit repetitive.)
Walking around the house feels more like immersive Punchdrunk-style theatre than a museum tour. For that reason, it probably shouldn’t have been put on my Museum list. That said, the house has received so many positive reviews that I thought it was worth a pop. And it many ways, it was like the Geffrye museum without any barriers.
The house is peppered with slightly condescending signs, saying things like ‘Oh no, you’re still looking at things. Try and see the whole thing’ or ‘C’mon. You’re still not seeing it’ in an attempt to nudge you into believing it’s an experience not just a collection of old artefacts.
Which is great. I totally understand that if you experience a room as a whole, it will feel more like you’ve been transported back in time.
But whilst the majority of the displays felt fantastically realistic, in almost every room there was something to wrench you back to the present day. The best perhaps being a big jar of Tesco Finest mint jelly in the drawing room cabinet.
In an odd way, it’s a pity we didn’t see the place whilst Dennis was alive. I can’t imagine he’d have been happy with ‘Shh’ signs stuck on paintings, or modern brands and products sitting next to authentic old ones.
Dennis’ personal motto was ‘You either see it or you don’t.’
Unfortunately for Dennis, it wasn’t that I hadn’t seen it – in fact, I’d seen too much.
Not one! It feels a bit cruel chastising the house for not having facts on display. It’s immersive history – I get that.
It’s just a little annoying it was so hard to get immersed.