On my last night in London, I met up with my friend Lydia to go to a ‘still-life drama’ museum, called the Dennis Severs House in Spitalfield. Lydia discovered it while running an errand for work, noticing it because of the gas flame lamp posed above the doorway. After reading about it online, she thought I would like it as much as her, and we were both excited to go along to see it.
The whole museum was only 10 rooms, but set up as if it were the house of a Huguenot Victorian family who heard your footsteps and slipped out of the room only a moment before. There was tea poured into the teacups, and a bite taken out of a strawberry where the family had been taking their meal, and in the kitchen we had interrupted someone making a cake, so a cracked egg sat in a bowl of flour, waiting to be mixed. A real black cat sat curled up in the kitchen, near the real fire. There were very clever sounds echoing through the rooms, such as horses clip-clopping outside, and the sound of an old steam-engine passing by, rattling the windows, and the sounds of the footsteps of the family, trying to evade us.
Lydia and I absolutely adored it. Lydia, in particular, has a real passion for Dickensian London, and has read practically the whole Dickens canon, so was so enchanted by everything. We spent a very long time in each room, as as well as looking around the rooms, the house had a mystery we were supposed to solve as well. We were busy looking for clues. We actually both are still not sure what the mystery was (they didn’t tell us as we exited) but nevertheless we enjoyed trying to be detectives.
Seeing the house and talking to Lydia about Charles Dickens has given me a want to read some of his work. I have read an abridged version of Great Expectations as a child, but never a full tome of his work. I bought a second-hand copy of Oliver Twist while in Oxford, which Lydia suggested was one of the easier books to start with (and also on the list of 1001 Children’s Books to read before I grow up). I seem to be in a Victorian London frame of mind, having read The Ruby in the Smoke and Smith in the last couple of weeks, but I look forward to reading the real thing, rather than replicas that people have created in books. Like wandering through a Victorian museum compared to a real Victorian house, books that are written during a particular area will have a particular spark not re-creatable through the distance of years.