Twelve Days of Christmas London Style – Day 2

I love London. Even though I lived there for a year, and visit as often as I can, I never get bored with it. There are always new and surprising places to discover.

dennis servers

Dennis Severs House. 18 Folgate Street. Spitalfields. London.

The Dennis Severs House, at 18 Folgate Street in Spitalfields, is of those gems.

Dennis Severs (1948-1999) an American artist, bought a very run-down Georgian House in the then unfashionable and equal run-down area of Spitalfields in 1979 and turned it into both his home and a piece of still-life drama.

Depicting the home of a fictional family of silk weavers from the late 18th century through to the Victorian age, the house is not a museum. Some articles are historically accurate, but the atmosphere Severs has created is a sense of crossing a threshold into a living past.

Visiting the ten rooms – in silence – it’s as though the family has just left and you explore their life using all five senses.  Perhaps most potent is the sense of smell: warm scones freshly baked in the cellar kitchen; greenery from the Christmas tree in the parlour; coal fires burning in the grate; perfume in the upstairs bedroom. And there’s more – much more: the steady wheeze of the grandfather clock; a bird chirping outside; how dim the rooms are even with candles blazing; the unevenness of the wooden floors.

But it’s the little details that brings their story to life. Being a rather messy person myself – who is forever searching for things I’ve mislaid – I sympathized with the lady of the house who had removed her ear-rings and left them beside her teacup in the parlour. I can just imagine her frustration next morning trying to find them, in the same way I am constantly  on the search for my discarded glasses.

I was unable to take photographs inside, so please check out the link below for more details, or view the interview below from 1997, with Dennis Severs himself, which I found on Youtube.

And definitely consider adding a visit to The Dennis Severs House to your itinerary on your next visit to London.

Getting there: Tube or bus to Liverpool Street Station.  It’s only a 5 minute walk from there.


Further Reading: 18 Folgate Street. The History.

Dennis Severs Website




Christmas in Wartime

Starting one week today (Monday, January 6th 2014) I plan to return to eating World War Two British rations for one month. As before I’ll be adding in tidbits about the war, while Anne (my aunt) will once again add her own recollections of living in Scotland during that conflict.

To get my mind in the right headspace, I’ve recently been watching a few WW2 documentaries and dramas. A Wartime Farm Christmas, a documentary which can be found on Youtube, is a wonderful antidote to the excesses of our 21st Century festive season and a great tribute to the resilience of those wartime civilians.


London in Calgary, Alberta – Challenge 6

Having lived in, and visited, London often, I tend to seek out lesser known places to visit when I go there on holiday. One place I was really keen to see this year was The Dennis Severs House in Spitalfields, particularly as in the month of December it is ‘dressed’ for Christmas.

As you can see from the video, it’s not a true historical home, but is there a house in Calgary that might offer something of a similar experience? An individual home ‘dressed’ for a previous time?

Built in 1891, by  Senator James Lougheed, and originally named Beaulieu, The Lougheed House fit the bill.


When The Lougheed House was first built, Calgary’s population was only 4,000, and the house sat on bald prairie in its own 2.8 acres. Now, situated on 14th Ave SW, it is in the heart of downtown.

During its early years, the house played host to the great and the good, with one of the daughters dancing with Edward, Prince of Wales, on his visit to Western Canada in 1919.


After Lougheed died, the house had to be sold. For a while it acted as a school, then housed female personnel of the Canadian Army during the Second World War. Post-war it became the headquarters for the Red Cross in Calgary, the drawing room where Senator Lougheed had worked on his government papers and entertained politicians now becoming the waiting room for blood donors.


Finally, in 2000, it was restored to its former glory and is now a museum and restaurant, open daily from Wednesday through Sunday. I can’t believe I’ve lived in this city for almost 30 years and have never visited it.  It’s truly a wee gem.

London in Calgary, Alberta – Challenge 3

Lesson learned. Today I was going to upload some photos of The Geffreye Museum I’d taken a few years ago.  I’d stored them ‘safely’ onto an external hard-drive on my return from London in 2011, but when I went to retrieve them this afternoon for this blog posting…? Wouldn’t load. Looks like the cable’s wrecked.  Moral of the story – store digital photos on both CDs AND external drive!

So you’ll just have to trust me that The Geffreye Museum is a fascinating and beautiful place to visit if London. A former almshouse built in 1714, it is dedicated to the history of the home, specifically the living rooms of the English middle class, over a four hundred year period. One room follows on from the other, each depicting a different era, and the same is true of the gardens.

The reason I’d wanted to revisit it this trip back to London is because in December the rooms are decorated for Christmas. So could I find a comparison in Calgary?

Heritage Park, which celebrates prairie history from the 1860s to 1913, comes very close.

STREET1STREET2I visit the park every summer, but come Christmastime, like The Geffreye Museum, many of the homes are decorated in a time appropriate fashion.


The first house we visited belonged to Peter Prince, a wealthy lumber merchant from Calgary’s late 19th Century. It’s a beautiful, well appointed home, and its formal decor reflects his affluence.


Then there’s the Thorpe House.  Home to a family of Norwegian immigrants, it is warm, welcoming and cosy. Apparently it’s traditional for Norwegians to drape their tree garlands from top to bottom rather than side to side as we do in North America.


The Ranch House is my favourite home in the whole park.  I worked there many years ago, baking cookies for visitors to enjoy as they toured the house, and trust me, when it’s +30C outside and you have an old wood oven going, it’s hot work. Today, stepping into the warmth and smelling the freshly baked gingerbread was sheer heaven. And although the tree was rather spindly and all its decorations home made, I thought it was the most beautiful of all the trees we saw.


As well as being able to view the decorated homes, there are shops enticing you with holiday goodies, a bakery selling delicious breads and gingerbread men, and carollers singing in the church.  There’s even a special shop just for kids (adults forbidden) where they can buy that special something for their parents.

Heritage Park is open on weekends for the Christmas season until December 22nd.