This is the original text as written by Dennis Severs.
The house’s ten rooms harbour ten ‘spells’ that engage the visitor’s imagination in moods that dominated the periods between 1724 - 1914. Your senses are your guide.
Room One: The Cellar. You begin in the dark by discovering a crater in which are fragments of St Mary’s Spital, AD 1197, and hence the name “Spitalfields”. An instinct should then draw you toward the more alluring light and warmth of its opposite: Room Two, The Kitchen - which addresses your simplest state of consciousness: your Soul. Here - in every object - form and function are at one, so that with nothing to explain, you may simply “be”. N.B. - like a contented infant.
In Room Three: The Eating Parlour on the front ground floor, infancy is awakened by enlightenment, and - as in adolescence - opinions are formed and sides taken. The room consists of bold contrasts; back or forth - even the colours complement the ‘clink-clank’ of the primitive brass clock: black or white, green or white, blue or white, red or white.
Like Baroque politics in the wake of the Civil War: Catholic or Protestant, ‘Whig’ or ‘Tory’ - ‘King George or King James’, Man or Nature, Man… or Woman - no peace: black or white - nothing between.
Another instinct will lift you - and your mind - above such strife in the same way that you might lift your head if someone should throw a punch. You join smart Georgians in rising above low prejudice to move up the stairs and onto the piano noble. This high and ‘noble’ platform is now referred to as the ‘first’ - meaning best - floor, and is the high ground on which order and refinement can harbor, safe from the bully below. Up here, lighter ‘rococo’ touches celebrate the end of heavy Baroque, and you arrive within the light of reason to be greeted by the sight of things so delicate that they would never survive a night on the street. All this to sharpen your skill at balance so that the fear of your own clumsiness might persuade you to take closer care and join the quest for harmony for which the mid-to-late 18th Century was so committed.
A quick lesson may be learned from ‘the morning after’ in Room Four, The Smoking Room, as to the practical disadvantages of all-male extremes; pure Hogarth. Hopefully, Reason will have made the previous nights views - like the room’s more subdued colours - more moderate. It is the reforming climate of this aftermath that prepares you for further refinement. In Room Five, the withdrawing room, men and women are brought together in a regulated state of harmony. Balanced out by a female presence, things and thoughts are softened to become ‘mannered’, and what you imagine here - might, like the room itself - be disciplined to the symmetry, scale and proportions provided by your own human form. With limb and life aligned - perfection. Alas, ‘Neo-classicism’.
All too perfect? Well, though we may REASON back and forth, we FEEL high or low, and another instinct - this time a feeling - should join in to kindle the curiosity, to travel up and see more: things more personal and distinctive. It is here that the heart is now approached, and done so first by the sensation of things arranged vertically as apposed to horizontally - as they were downstairs. And how exciting - too, the mystery and gloom of a pointing ‘gothic’ print room constructed of hand-cut paper, pasted and arranged by the Jervis children.
Now “I think” should develop into “I feel”, and the colours in the Chamber and Boudoir are the pastel hues of sea and sky - to lift the imagination and inspire it on. So intimate - femininity, family, children’s toys and humour - as well as evidence of ‘a passion for’ - ephemera, oriental porcelain and flowers. The idea being to warm cold Reason so that you might look down on the same primitive and brutal world from which you once rose to see it as ‘picturesque’. In doing so you enter the back door to the romantic age from 1780 - 1837.
However, on the Top Floor, now stripped of any prettiness and filled with lodgers, what good are Reason and Romance on their own? You are 100 years old; you are wise. And with harder times and the Spitalfields silk trade sweating towards its collapse - a visitor joins with an age to reach more deeply - through sentiment to the Soul. A sense of angst is necessary to understanding the house’s next generation of Early-Victorian reformers.
Only now can the clutter in the small Back Parlour on the Ground Floor - Room Ten - make real sense: interpreted as the rich ornament on the Albert Memorial was once intended: as representative of the call to the wisdom of the inner-soul for help in dealing with the outer life. The Journey is therefore like a life itself: a full circle - Soul to Soul. And when the clutter into the Parlour loses the virtue it once advertised, then an instinct will suggest that it should be got rid of; and once emptied - the room painted white. And so, the Eleventh Room… was. In that room you are at home.
The visitor’s poor mind is thus taken up and down, back and forth, and finally in and out. However, if all this you missed - don’t worry. Those in the past were also dizzy and dumbstruck by the same series of spells that, though they conformed, they probably missed it all too. House motto: “you either see it or you don’t”. Take it from me, a bystander, that when you are under the spell of your own time you are as interesting to watch as were those before; it is always the same plot: Soul - Soul. It was your humanity in response to the house that adds life to it and makes tending it so worthwhile. You are our television.
Dennis Severs 1948 - 1999