Monday, April 14, 2008

An Atmospheric Monday Evening in London

Wry did not say what we were going to do, but he made us hustle out of the door. We had an appointment, and seemed to have plenty of time to get there. Of course, we neglected to take into account the usual London warren of streets.

But I digress.

Anyway, we got on the Underground and got off at Liverpool station. It is hard to describe what it was like, coming out of the station up into the train station.

The first thing that hit me was just this dizzying space -- a sense of immense, vaulting space. And light. And noise. And crowds of people rushing around.

For a moment, we just stood there, senses overloaded.

The station is a wonderful Victorian dame and became operational in 1875.

We finally figured out that we were in a train station.

This is the view as we left the station. Finally, we are getting some fog. It is beautiful and atmospheric. However, there is one little, tiny fly in the ointment of our enjoyment.

We are lost.

The station has multiple exits and once we get outside, Wry is hopelessly turned around. And no one around has ever heard of the street that we are looking for. Wry takes out the map and instructions and we begin wandering the streets of London. My foot hurts. Wry starts walking faster and faster. I walk slower and slower.

Finally, I step into a fish and chips shop and ask if anyone knows where Folgate Street is. We get some directions and begin heading in the right direction.

And get lost again. However, I stop a cabbie on the sidewalk and he pulls out his street map and gives us directions.

It turns out that we are going to Dennis Sever's house. It is "A living museum set up by Dennis Severs, the house tells the story of the Jarvis family, a talented group of Huguenot silk weavers from 1725 to 1919." Wry wanted us to go on Monday night, as it is open by candlelight every Monday evening.

The whole night was like walking back in time. We stood in Spitalfields, on a narrow street, in the fog, waiting to get into a house that is a tour through history.

"Dennis Severs, an American from California, who died in 1999 lived at 18 Folgate Street. At local markets he bought period pieces, original objects and furniture.

This old house inspired him to write the life story of a family who could have lived here. He invented a Huguenot family, the Jervis family, who fled from France in 1688. They bought the house in 1724 and here his tale begins.

Sounds and scents bring their world to life, floorboards creak, fires crackle, a kettle hisses on the hob, it is all very real. As if you step back in time.

The tour starts in the cellar from where you move on to the kitchen. Then to the eating parlour, where you can hear the ticking of a clock. You then move upstairs to the ‘better’ rooms and now you are in the Georgian era. Then on to the smoking room where the men retired after dinner. The tour ends in the withdrawing room, where men and women partook in social talk. During the tour you are asked not to speak so that you can absorb the atmosphere more intensely. "

I don't know how to describe the evening. You meet in the drawing room, and then go from room to room. Each room is another historical period. You are supposed to be silent and soak up the atmosphere -- it is a tour of the neighborhood as much as following a family through time. The basement is where the original hospital room is -- the "spital" of Spitalfields stands for "hospital." It has dirt floors and is close and bleak. As there is no light except for candlelight, you get a very real sense of what it was like to be in a home without electricity.

We wandered up through the rooms, a drawing room, a kitchen, bedrooms, up to the attic, where you see the end of the family, as their fortunes declined. I can't say that I enjoyed it, because it is a bit more artsy than I generally like, (performance art, but YOU are part of it!!), but I was caught up in the experience. By the time we left, I was ready to go. It was extremely evocative and my nerves were getting a bit jumpy.

Just the mood to wander the streets of London, don't you think?

I thought that my daughter would have liked wandering around, waiting for Jack the Ripper to leap out. I myself did not find that thought comforting.

Safety! The train station!

I very much needed the normality and bustle of the train station after all of the evocation of the evening. It is a really beautiful old station.

Wry and I just wandered around, taking pictures as we chose. It echoed, in an odd way, being in Dennis Severs' house. We drifted around, not talking much, just admiring the architecture, occasionally pointing out something of interest to one another. Once by candlelight, in silence. Once in the bustle of a lovely old train station.

So, I am going to leave you with two views of the Liverpool station.

The first, I witnessed.

The second, I wish I had witnessed. "Never gonna give you up, Never gonna let you down ..."

And then we went back to the hotel, extremely tired. It had been quite a day.

Tomorrow, we will be off to Lincoln's Inn Fields. I am very excited.


rowan said...

Michty! The candlelit hoose sounds and looks pretty spine-tingling! I think I would have been a bit twitchy too, by the end. fascinating, but the atmosphere would get to me. I have a performance-artist phobia,though!

There is, or used to be, a seventeenth-century-century Edinburgh museum of smells. You went through a mock-up of various dwellings and street scenes, and the requisite synaesthaesic pngs descended. Someone in tech services was pretty heavy on the sulphur. Just sayin.

I am very impressed that you did that tour, Bob and Wry. A most unusual,adventurous thing to do. There are tours underneath old Edinburgh too, at night, but i would volunteer to stay up on street level, and hold the bags. I am not good with dark cavernous candlelit passages.

(Now...I am preparing myself to be a little jellis, just in case you made it to the Natural History Museum.) Lincoln's Inn Fields must have been really fascinating. can't wait to read and see the pics!

rowan said...

For pngs, read pongs.

Dr. Bob said...

I don't know if I would like the smell-walk.

Png was just as funny as pong ... not a word we use here. It does not connote a smell to me, but a small white ball across a computer screen.

rowan said...

Well, that's cos you are techy, and I am led by the nose. Especially where white pudding suppers are concerned.

No...I would not recommend the Museum of Smells. It does rather put one off one's deep-fried Mars Bar.

A mom in the 'burbs said...

I found the odd Rick WhatsHisName song thingy more disturbing then a candelight tour through a creepy house. :) Just sayin....

Kidding (mostly). I would've loved the spine-tingliness of it, but would've been jumpy for, well, days and days. In fact, I might just generate a bad dream or two with just your vivid description of it. *grin*

Dr. Bob said...

Hey! I still like Rick Astley. I am glad that he has reached weird icon status.

Yeah, the house was kind of creepy? intense? But don't have a bad dream. Sleep is important.

love you!