100 Heroes: Dennis Severs

The gay man who created a unique performance of queer history.

100 Heroes: Dennis Severs

Dennis Severs is known for a house that he refurbished in London and transformed into a historical point of interest.

He hosted tours of the house, creating imaginary stories about the occupants that might have once lived there.


Born in 1948 in the US, Severs moved to London in 1967 to reinvent himself and embrace his sexuality.

A natural showman, Severs initially conducted tours of London in a horse-drawn carriage.

In 1979, Severs purchased a decrepit house in Spitalfields. He paid £18,000 and immediately began conducting tours of the house, while also working on its restoration.

The house itself had no special historical significance, but Severs made up stories as he went along.

Severs' tours focused on the story of the fictional Jervis family - originally immigrant Huguenot silk weavers who Severs said lived at the house from 1725 to 1919. Each room was curated to evoke moments in the life of the family.

The tours were conducted during the day. At night, the house was where Severs hosted regular sex parties.

One of the most significant people in Severs' life was Simon Pettet. Pettet was an 18-year-old art student when he was picked up by Severs outside the club Heaven under the Charing Cross arches in 1983 - Pettet moved into Severs' house shortly after.

“How long have you been gay?” Severs reportedly asked Pettet that night. “About five minutes, since I got in this taxi,” Pettet replied.

In 1984 Pettet and Severs were both diagnosed with HIV - making them two of the earliest cases in Britain. Pettet died at the age of 28 in 1993. Severs died in 1999 at the age of 51.

Dennis Severs and Simon Pettet.