18 Folgate Street

February 3, 2009

This is a slightly odd post in that it’s about something I haven’t actually seen myself (for reasons which will be discussed below). 18 Folgate Street is regularly mentioned in lists of London’s ‘best kept secrets’ and best museums. I first heard of it years and years ago and have always been fascinated by the idea. It’s a house in Spitalfields in which the (late) owner, Dennis Severs, created a ‘still life drama’. As you move through the rooms, you pass through the lives of the fictional Gervais/Jervis family invented by Severs and consequently through a fictionalised history of the house 1724-1914. Severs also wrote a book about the house, which is beautiful and fascinating.

It’s emphatically not a reconstruction. Severs occasionally takes great pleasure in undermining the museum effect, pointing out the anachronisms and inaccuracies. And of course the whole project revels in fictionalisation and trickery. It is about ‘aura’, not authenticity. Visual and aural effects are used to give the impression that the family are just out of reach, that they have just left the room: half eaten food, ruffled bedsheets, whispers. Read the rest of this entry »