Lamb House

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Things to do


Date of travel

September, 2021

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“Lamb House”: in Rye was the former home of the American novelist, Henry James. His friend, E.F. Benson, lived in the house from 1919 to 1940 and is noted for the ‘Mapp and Lucia’ novels set in Tilling, which was based on Rye. For those familiar with either the books or TV series, Lamb House was the home of Miss Mapp.

Now a National Trust property it is only open from Friday to Tuesday, so we had to visit on the first day of our mid-week break. Entrance was £8 each and tickets were purchased from the property next door. We were told that if we were staying a few days, we could use the ticket to picnic within the grounds.

Having gone through the large imposing black door, we were greeted by a volunteer in the entrance hall who provided a brief interesting overview of the house. In the hall were pictures on the walls of many of those who had stayed there including John Singer Sergeant and Rudyard Kipling.

In the room to the right of the hall, was a bureau which was on loan from Chartwell and the volunteer told us it was likely to have been used by Winston Churchill.

In the Oak Parlour a small round table was set for two whilst in the adjacent Dining Room a much larger table was laid for dinner. The arched recess was unusual, and I was told that Henry James was influenced by his travels and in particular those to Italy (hence the recess and the marble fireplaces) and also Holland (hence the Delft tiles in the fireplaces). In the recess was a dresser which apparently was mahogany but had been painted over by a previous NT tenant.

The dining room had a door opening onto the garden with its central lawn and a flower-line path around the outside. There were plenty of benches for relaxing and admiring the gardens. At one end was a kitchen garden with lots of vegetables including onions, sweetcorn, rhubarb etc. There was also a small pond with fountain and water lilies.

Unfortunately the tearoom with its lovely walled area was still closed due to Covid: the house had only reopened in April and the garden in July. A sign said that the garden was not in the state it should be.

Upstairs we found the King’s Room – named after an unexpected visit from King George I. The heavily pregnant Mrs Thomas Lamb who lived there at the time, was forced to vacate her room for the king, and eventually gave birth that night which is why the baby was name George and the King agreed to being godfather.

The Green Room was where the writing was done in winter and there was a typewriter where Miss Roosevelt would have typed up Henry James’ notes. A typed manuscript of the novel, The American, was laid out on the bureau and showed the many handwritten amendments made in an attempt to attract publishers as it was initially rejected.

All the rooms had a typewritten description of an interesting fact, and I noticed each one had a manuscript insertion or correction which seemed somewhat superfluous. The volunteer said these had been done deliberately in homage to Henry James.

In summer, James would have written in a garden room, but this had been destroyed by a bomb during World War II. Also, there was a dressing room with a suit worn by Sir John Betjeman. Two rooms, Henry James bedroom and the White Parlour, were not open as they were undergoing renovation. Another floor was roped off.

On the way out, we commented on the imposing door furniture and locks and the volunteer showed how knocking on the door raised one of the bolts.

This is not a large house but it is definitely worth a visit if you’re in Rye.

Helen Jackson

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