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Simon Pettet At Dennis Severs’ House

April 23, 2023
by the gentle author

Dennis Severs with Simon Pettet (standing)


Have you ever wondered about the lives of the people who lived at 18 Folgate St in the nineteen eighties – Dennis Severs and his circle – those who worked together, creating what is now known as Dennis Severs’ House? To me, their stories have always been a subject of at least as great interest as the tale of the fictional Huguenot family that Dennis Severs invented.

Two years ago, it was my great delight when the Spitalfields Trust invited me to reinvent Dennis Severs’ tours as part of renewal of the house after the pandemic. Now I am thrilled that they have invited me back to script and direct an entirely new tour, exploring the real lives of the residents of 18 Folgate St in the rooms where they lived and worked.

My new tour is SIMON’S STORY, focussing on Simon Pettet, a young and gifted ceramicist who met Dennis outside Heaven, the nightclub beneath Charing Cross Station, as an eighteen-year-old art student in 1983 and moved in with him shortly after.

Personally and creatively, Dennis and Spitalfields opened a whole new world of possibilities that allowed Simon’s work to develop in a unique way. He reimagined traditional blue-and-white pottery, employing vernacular techniques and historical references to create the pieces of delftware which enliven 18 Folgate St today.

Yet in 1984, at nineteen years old, Simon Pettet was diagnosed HIV+ as one of the earliest cases in this country and he died at the age of just twenty-eight in 1993, leaving ten years of work including tiles, profile pots, a barber’s bowl, a money box, a marriage plate, obelisks and mugs.

SIMON’S STORY is devised from interviews I undertook with Patrick Handscombe who lived at 18 Folgate St at that time and is performed by actor Joel Saxon who plays the role of ‘Paddy’, narrating the intimate tale of Simon and his relationship with Dennis Severs.

The new tour is launched to complement the exhibition MAKING HISTORY: THE CERAMIC WORK OF SIMON PETTET, opening on 4th May and running until 4th June, curated by Rupert Thomas, formerly editor of The World of Interiors.


Click here to book for both the exhibition and tour at Dennis Severs’ House


Simon Pettet’s self portrait tile at Dennis Severs’ House

Simon Pettet (1965-1993)

Dennis Severs’ House, 18 Folgate St, Spitalfields, E1 6BX

4 Responses leave one →
  1. April 23, 2023

    I first visited Dennis Sever’s house in 2017. I was in London for work purposes but had a spare evening. I decided to fill my time with a bit of research for my family history hobby having recently discovered a silk weaving branch, and having long been told that we had Huguenot ancestry, I booked a silent night tour. To step through the door on a chilly November evening was to travel back through time. The visit had a profound effect on me. I would thoroughly recommend visiting 18 Folgate Street to anyone wishing to really immerse themselves in a different period and to lose yourself for an hour. I forgot about the training I was due to deliver the following day, the hotel I was staying in, instead, I was really there, in this moment, in this time.
    Dennis’s vision is, to me, perfect and it has helped me to turn people long dead into “real people” in my mind. I can visualise their home and how they lived with ease.
    I have revisited and every time I do, I see something that I had previously missed. On my last visit, I saw a letter signed “Dighton”. Was I dreaming? This is my ancestor’s surname! The guide at the door kindly explained that Dennis collected names from round and about to add to his fictional family’s connections. This was a very profound moment for me although there was an artistic Dighton family, famous for their caricatures, who Dennis may have had in mind rather than my silk weaver branch, but it mattered not to me.
    Simon’s ceramics are exquisite. They authentically capture the Delftware style and the period. It is so tragic that such a beautiful and gifted artist had his life cut short so cruelly. It is wonderful that his life and work are celebrated in the upcoming exhibition and event. I certainly will be booking tout de suite.

  2. Wendy permalink
    April 23, 2023

    Fantastic. I look forward to visiting fir the new tour. I was lucky enough to snap up tickets for a tour around Christmas time – it was wonderful. I believe the tour guide’s name was Joel – he was fabulous in bringing this amazing house to life.

  3. April 23, 2023

    I’ve enjoyed the many posts over the years about the Dennis Severs House — and especially
    savored the comment above by reader Christine. Most appreciated!

  4. Corvin Roman permalink
    October 5, 2023

    A beautiful, intimate and moving visit that I cannot recommend highly enough. My first visit to the house that I’ve been meaning to visit for over two decades and I’m glad I chose to do so for this reimagined tour so beguilingly brought to life by Saxon. So much so I’ve booked the tour again for next week!

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