Writing Inspiration: Dennis Severs House, London

What if you could visit a house where the occupants had seemingly up and left, mid-life? You’d pass through rooms where meals were left half-eaten on a table, or correspondences were left with the ink hardly dry, sheets rumpled at the foot of the bed, the mattress still warm?

What if I told you that house functioned as a time-capsule into Georgian London: the furnishings, clothing draping the backs of chairs, the very architecture of the place was preserved like a living still-life portrait? A museum that captured the essence of a family who once lived there, their possessions left behind as if they were just about to return?

There is such a place in Spitalfields, London. It’s a living museum — an experience that invites onlookers to pass through it in absolute silence, and it belongs to an artist named Denis Severs.

Dennis Severs House, London

It’s located at 18 Folgate Street, and it provided the unlikely inspiration for a short story you might’ve read: Chasing Ghosts.

Dennis Severs house on Folgate Street is an art installation and museum of sorts that preserves an 18th century London mansion as a time capsule. It’s not so dissimilar from the Parisian Time Capsule apartment that was left untouched for seventy years, the owner of which (Marthe de Florian) abandoned the flat after WWII.

The difference is that Dennis Severs was an artist who lived at the house of Folgate in its preserved state without electricity or heat, right up until his death in 1999. The house on Folgate recreates the world of the Huguenot silk weavers who occupied the area in Spitalfields from 1700. Severs acquired the property in 1979, and refurbished and redecorated the rooms in 19th and 19th century styles to capture the essence of a still-life drama, recreating history in a contemporary era.

On Writing Inspiration

Ideas come from everywhere. I attempted this experiment a while ago where I’d start my day by writing ten story ideas down. A few of the best I turned into short fictions, a few of the worst are still gestating in the notebook where I keep them — but they all came from somewhere.

Chasing Ghosts originated with an article on Messy Nessy Chic about Denis Severs’ House in London, which eventually blew out into an actual ghost story.

It’s not that the experience is creepy at Denis Severs’ house; it’s just a little melancholy, a little forlorn, and little patient: like you’re waiting for something to happen; a clock to strike, a bell to chime, or maybe you anticipate the passing form of something not wholly real.

I wanted to capture that feeling: the texture, the warmth, and the quiet, and turn it into a story about loss and waiting for things to get better.

For the purposes of this post, however, I’ve pulled some of my favourite quotes about 18 Folgate Street, as well as a few of the images that shaped the story.

Denis Severs House, from Time Out London

Denis Severs House, from Time Out London

“Dennis Severs’ House is a time capsule attraction in which visitors are immersed in a unique form of theatre. The ten rooms of this original Huguenot house have been decked out to recreate snapshots of life in Spitalfields between 1724 and 1914. An escorted tour through the compelling ‘still-life drama’, as American creator Dennis Severs put it, takes you through the cellar, kitchen, dining room, smoking room and upstairs to the bedrooms. With hearth and candles burning, smells lingering and objects scattered apparently haphazardly, it feels as though the inhabitants had deserted the rooms only moments before.”

Denis Severs House by Time Out London

Dennis Severs House by MessyNessyChic

“There is a good deal there, of course, in ten rooms across five floors. And each of the rooms is cluttered to the point of claustrophobia with essentials and some collectables as well. That begins in the packed cellar kitchen, reached down the original wooden stair that clearly pre-dates any concept of building regulations about safety, and with a ceiling so low that anyone of six foot is stooping.”

Dennis Severs’ House: Capturing an Imaginary Moment in Time by Grant Eustace

Dennis Severs House by MessyNessyChic

“The 10 rooms of the brick George I townhouse are all lived in and used by a ghosts of the past– a family of Huguenot silk weavers to be more specific. An unmade bed has just been left by its sleepless occupant, a plate of freshly shucked oysters have been left by interrupted eaters. They always seem to be just out of sight, moving like shadows to another room as you enter one, a black cat brushes past your leg.”

Chasing Ghosts in an East London Time Capsule by MessyNessy

Dennis Severs House by MessyNessyChic

If you’re curious as to how these visuals translated into an end product, feel free to check out Chasing Ghosts below. It’s a free download offered in a few formats for a variety of different e-reader types.


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Chasing Ghosts by Kira Butler

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Chasing Ghosts

A free short story by Kira Butler

Sign up for our newsletter and download your free ghost story. Your information will always be kept totally private.



Images for this post were drawn from Timeout London and MessyNessyChic.


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