Number 18 Folgate Street, in the Spitalfields district of London, is quite something. I went to visit on a crisp, cold December evening, with an appointment for 8pm or so – last of the day. It’s best to view it this way, because it means each of the rooms in the house is quite likely to be empty of other visitors and the experience is all the more magical.
Each room over the floor floors is just as one would expect to find in a comfortable middle class London home of around 1724, complete with fires burning in the grates. In fact, it would seem that the family who lives here has just stepped out briefly, perhaps to visit a neighbour, leaving books and newspapers on the chairs, the candles flickering, and the evening meal remnants to be cleared away by a housemaid at any moment. One could carp about the family’s failure to organise repairs to the ceiling, for in places the plasterwork looks about to collapse, and also the meanness of the freezing attic or garret in which their servants must live. But that is a perspective from the future, and this was then (and how easy it is in this place to believe one is back ‘then’, undertaking an eighteenth century viewing arranged through an bewigged estate agent based around the corner in Bishopsgate, while the owners have discreetly popped out for half an hour or so so that the would-be purchaser is not distracted.
Visits to No 18 by appoinment are conducted in complete silence, with not even a solitary question to the sphinx-like attendants. Only one sound from the modern era intruded while I was there – the slight rumble of the Central Line trains some way below the street.