Lamb House in Rye is a fairly minor property in the Trust’s portfolio and did not meet the qualifications for inclusion on my list, but during its lifetime it has been home to both Henry James and E F Benson so there was no way I could miss it out. Literary royalty always gets my antennae twitching. And when I arrived, I found out that Lamb House delivers three novelists for the price of two as Rumer Godden was another later tenant.
My visit to Rye was actually part of a book group trip to the area so most of the other Dusty Jackets accompanied me into the house. In preparation for our trip, we had read E F Benson’s ‘Mapp & Lucia’ so it was great to see the house that had been the inspiration for Mrs Mapp’s ‘Mallards’ (and which was used in the recent television adaptation of the book). Unfortunately, the famous Garden Room, which is featured in the novels and which was also the former writing room of Henry James, was destroyed by a bomb in 1940 so only a plaque on the outside wall remains to mark its location. There are several photos and paintings in the house, though, so you can see what it once looked like.
There are only a few rooms open to the public at Lamb House and the first floor is out of bounds so you cannot visit the Green Room study, where Henry James also wrote, or the King’s Room bedroom, which is said to have accommodated King George I for one night in 1726 after his ship ran aground at Camber Sands. The then owner was James Lamb, who actually built Lamb House in 1722, and his wife apparently gave birth that very night while the King was in situ. The monarch agreed to be godfather to the child, and there are no prizes for guessing what name was chosen for the baby boy! I have to say I certainly didn’t expect to be adding to my list of properties visited by reigning monarchs on my visit to this relatively modest house in Rye, but real royalty takes its place in the story alongside the literary royalty. (I do feel a need to admit here that, while I keep calling Henry James literary royalty, I’m not actually much of a fan; I’ve read ‘The Portrait of a Lady’ and ‘The Ambassadors’ but have decided that’s probably enough. I may well try some more of the Mapp & Lucia novels in the future and it could be time to borrow Rumer Godden’s ‘A Greengage Summer’, which I know is in my Dad’s library, so there could be further reading attached to this visit, just not of the James kind.)
Lamb House’s literary connections do not end with the three I have mentioned as several other well known names visited James while he was living there, including Rudyard Kipling, HG Wells, Edith Wharton, Joseph Conrad and others. For a book lover like me, it was certainly a pleasure to walk the same halls as these people.
If you’re not a book lover, Lamb House may not have a huge amount to offer as it’s not especially notable in architecture or furnishings. There are only three main rooms open to the public (besides the hall) and most of their contents have something to do with Henry James, but hats off to the Trust for tracking down some of his former belongings as well as for putting together some interesting reading materials and photo albums for visitors to peruse. One thing that may appeal to a wider audience is the garden, which has what is said to be the largest lawn to be found within the citadel of Rye. It is a haven of tranquillity in a town that is generally bustling with tourists and there are even tables in the garden so you can ring for service (there is literally a bell to ring!) and take tea and cake on the lawn. I can also confirm that, on a pleasant day, it’s a perfect spot to find a secluded bench and read up about the authors who once sat in the very same spots.
Highlights: The literary atmosphere, the garden
Companion(s): The Dusty Jackets