A work Christmas party where no one’s allowed to talk is rather odd, even for the most dysfunctional of offices. And yet, the digital team at VL towers chose to attend Silent Night at Dennis Severs House as part of our end-of-year celebrations.
On a frosty evening in mid-December, we congregated on the cobblestones, not quite knowing what to expect. After a rowdy table football tournament at Bar Kick, entering the hushed, candlelit environs of Dennis Severs’ house was rather a shock. But that’s exactly how they want you to feel. The house has been set up as a museum-cum-“experience”, where you get to immerse yourself in the sights, sounds and smells of 18th-century London.
The guide who lets you in requests you maintain a strict silence while in the house. It takes about 45 minutes to make your way from basement to attic as you take in the house’s five floors and 10 different rooms. The quiet is punctuated only by other visitors’ footsteps, clocks chiming, and a few recordings to evoke a bygone era such as horses clopping by in the street. This, coupled with the home’s only light of flickering candles, immediately puts you in a more receptive state of mind.
There are a few descriptive notes dotted about, but they’re not particularly detailed, and you’re encouraged to let your mind wander and be open to the idea that perhaps the past, and the people who dwelled there, are closer than you think. In fact, they may even be in the next room! Each time you enter a different area of the house, it seems like the original inhabitants have just departed, leaving unmade beds, half-eaten mince pies and hastily-scribbled notes behind.
You go on a journey of the senses and, to some extent, the emotions. I felt a warm satisfaction in the ground floor dining room, where the table was groaning with a Christmas feast. The first floor sitting rooms were also convivial – one a blokey, Hogarth-style drinking den, the other an elegant ladies’ parlour that wouldn’t be out of place in an Austen novel. Another floor up, the family bedrooms were cosy and crammed with bits and bibelots. But the garret rooms, where the servants slept, were shabby, draughty and cold, with straw stuffed into the cracks in the rafters and ragged clothing strung sadly out to dry. It was a relief to return to the warmth below.
I really enjoyed my tour of the house. It was an interesting experience to learn a lot without reading it or being told verbally. This is also one fantastic East London attraction that really comes into its own in winter. Dennis Severs Christmas Season Silent Night tours are sold out, but after 6 January normal service will resume. Visit the Dennis Severs’ House website for bookings and more information.