‘Still Life Drama’: Dennis Severs’ House Revived
Step back in time at the Dennis Severs’ House, located at 18 Folgate Street in London.
Visitors are invited to participate in what the American founder called “a still life drama.” This extraordinary multi-sensory experience allows guests to walk through each room of the house feeling as if the 18th and 19th century inhabitants have only just withdrawn a moment before.
Collector and founder Dennis Severs bought the semi-derelict 18th-century Spitalfields house in the 1970s. With no desire to restore, Severs wanted to honor what he imagined were the echoes of the house’s history. He created the fictional story of a Huguenot silk merchant’s family named Jervis, who lived in the house for generations from 1724 to 1914. Each room tells the triumphs and tragedies of this fictional family through the original objects Severs bought from London’s street markets and sale rooms, atmospherically lit by candlelight.
Painstakingly assembled over 20 years, many of the rooms were mocked up in the manner of stage scenery using inexpensive materials—all conveying a haunting sense of London’s past: silk waistcoats are flung on rumpled bed clothes, a card game has just ended, fires crackle, and steam rises from a filled punch bowl.
Historian Jeremy Musson recently featured this unusual house in Country Life Magazine. Jeremy will speak about the house which he says “defies categorization…and is a house of mystery and paradox.” He will illustrate the rooms—recently repaired and conserved by the trustees during COVID lockdown—and show English houses that possibly influenced Severs’ designs. He also will show how the founder used costume and set designers, as well interior designers, to create a remarkable home that captures a moment in time and history.
Jeremy Musson, FSA, Historian and Author
Jeremy Musson is a leading commentator and authority on the English country house. He is a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries and sits on a number of boards and trusts including the Country House Foundation. He was awarded an M Phil in Renaissance History at the Warburg Institute, University of London, in 1989 and was Architectural Editor of Country Life from 1995-2007.
Before joining Country Life in 1995, Mr. Musson was an assistant regional curator for the National Trust in East Anglia. He has written and edited hundreds of articles on historic country houses, from Garsington Manor to Knebworth House. Mr. Musson also presented 14 programmes on BBC 2, making up two series called The Curious House Guest in 2005-07, and he also lectures and supervises for academic programmes with Cambridge University, London University and Buckingham University, and the Attingham Summer School.
Among his books include Up and Down Stairs: The History of the English Country House Servant (2009), English Country House Interiors (2011), Robert Adam: Country House Design, Decoration & the Art of Elegance (2017), The Country House: Past, Present, Future: Great Houses of the British Isles (2018), and Romantics and Classics: Style in the English Country House (Rizzoli, 2021).