A Trip to Dennis Severs’ House

“Dennis Severs’ House,” said Edinburgh Friend.

“You what?” I said, so she sent me a link to the website, and we agreed to go on her trip down to London.

To put this in context, when I came to visit her in what is not, in fact, Edinburgh, but a town between Edinburgh and Glasgow, we visited: Holyroodhouse, Edinburgh in general, Glasgow City Council Chambers, a tea shop that became a gin palace while we were there, and the Glasgow Necropolis. Dennis Severs’ House seemed like the least I could do, given that our other main excitement was a trip to Borough Market, and a trip to an Albanian restaurant, cancelled because I felt terrible.

We left, not as bright and early as we had wished, and arrived at Dennis Severs’ House to find a queue, which we duly joined.

“I hope they take cards,” Edinburgh Friend mused, and hastily checked the website. “It doesn’t say cash only, we should be fine.”

Reader, we queued for forty-five minutes, and discovered that they did not take cards. Because neither of us knows when to give up, we went, got cash, and came back, and by the time we got in it was two hours since we’d started queueing, and I’d read most of The Death of the Necromancer and started downloading The Mysterious Death of Miss Jane Austen to be on the safe side.

The conceit of Dennis Severs’ House is that you are travelling forwards in time, though the 18th and 19th centuries, in the lives of the Gervais/Jervis family, Huguenot silk weavers and merchants. You start in the cellars, with a small part of masonry from St Mary Spital, and the kitchens, and then ascend up the house, through the years, until you reach the rooms of silk weavers at the beginning of the reign of Queen Victoria, and then down again to what I am informed is supposed to be 1914. The house is set up as if the inhabitants have just risen and left, leaving dinner half-eaten, a teacup shattered on the floor, a chair still tipped over after a raucous party. (I notice that, to keep this impression going, the only completely unburnt candles are the unlit ones. The lit candles start off half-burnt. I saw them being changed.) Occasionally you hear voices,  a cat yowling, a baby whimpering, a coal scuttle being clanged.

The motto of the house is ‘you either see it or you don’t’ and, in all honesty, I don’t think I did. Oh, I enjoyed it. I liked the setup, I liked seeing all the items as if in use, I liked making small deductions about the people who lived there, but the chiding notes which effectively scolded you for reading them really got up my nose, and there’s only so many times you can see something compared to the world’s great opera experiences before you start going “Really?” In addition, while the lack of context for what you’re seeing is part of the show, I would have liked a little more. It was a very insular story.

If you read the website and like the sound of it, I recomment that you go. And take cash.


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