At some point or other, we’ve all wished we had a time machine that could transport us back to past ages. History both fascinates and intrigues us, and yet we are unable to ever know or experience it for ourselves.
Stepping across the threshold of Dennis Severs’ house is like stepping into the past – the closest thing to having your very own East London time machine. Dennis’ vision was to recreate a Georgian family home through his obsession with time and space. Everything in the house is meticulously arranged to give a sense of orderly clutter. Objects are scattered across tables, chairs scraped back, plates of food left half-eaten, beds rumpled and unmade and clothes strewn haphazardly over bannisters.
This is Dennis’ masterpiece, what he called ‘still-life drama’. The cumulative effect of which is that you feel you have stumbled upon an 18th century family going about their daily lives – whichever room you enter, they have just left, whichever staircase you climb, they are one step ahead of you; their presence is felt but not seen, they are both real and imaginary, shadows of the past.
‘To enter [the house] is to pass through a frame into a painting, one with a time and a life of its own.’ The Tour, Dennis Severs’ House.
The house is eerily silent; smells of cooking and of everyday existence fill the halls. Candlelight flickers orange on the walls and you can hear the distant sound of a horse and carriage passing outside. Or was it a black cab? It’s impossible to be sure whether you’re in your own time or a previous one, so artful is the illusion.
After such an immersion into the past, emerging back into the 21st century felt a strange and somewhat disconcerting experience. London Living almost wished we could have lingered a little longer in the wood-panelled halls, breathing in the sights and smells of another time, and maintaining for just a minute more the illusion that time had stood still.
All photos courtesy of Roelof Bakker with our thanks.