'It is really good enough to be a kind of little, becoming, high-door'd, brass-knocker'd facade to one's life.' Henry James on Lamb House, 1897

Lamb House was built in 1723 by James Lamb, a prominent citizen of Rye and 13 times mayor of the town, it was built on a site of an old brewery inherited by Lambs wife, Martha Grebell, which was pulled down five years later to bulid their smart new home. Lamb House is a model of early Georgian soberity. In 1743 Lamb added the Garden Room - a separate banqueting room with a bay window looking down  West Street. It was to be later in this room that Henry James and EF Benson wrote many of their great works and it was indeed this bay window that inspired Mapp's Window in Benson's Mapp and Lucia novels. Sadly the Garden Room was demolished by a German bomb in 1940.

Lamb House had a moment in the limelight in 1726, when a storm drove George I's ship on to Camber Sands. Lamb offered his own bed to the King although his wife was heavily pregnant. Indeed, she gave birth during the night and as heavy snow kept the King in Rye, he agreed to be godfather at the baptism two days later, giving a silver bowl and 100 guineas as a christening present. Not surprisingly, the Lambs called the child George.

Henry James discovered Lamb House by accident. In 1895 he was visiting his American architect friend Edward Warren, when he spotted a watercolour Warren had sketched of the Garden Room. Intrigued he went to look at the house the following summer while he was staying nearby and fell in love with it.

In 1897, Henry James aged 55, settled at Lamb House. English country house life appealed to him and after the humilitating failure of his play Guy Domville in 1895 he needed quiet refuge from the hurly burly of London. Lamb House provided it.

It was here that James wrote his three late masterpieces, The Wings of the Dove (1902),The Ambassadors (1903) and The Golden Bowl (1904), which earned him the nickname 'The Master',

His love for the 'blessed, invalubale, little old refuge quailty of dear L.H.' only grew with the years.

It was because of Lamb House, he decided to take British citizenship in 1915, the year before his death.

In his life and work, James helped Britons and Americans to understand one another.So it was apt in 1950 his nephew's widow should give Lamb House to the National Trust 'to be preserved as an enduring symbol of the ties that unite the British and American people'.

The writer E.F Benson, a friend of James, took over the lease in 1919. He shared the house with his brother, A.C. Benson, the Master of Magdalene College,Cambridge, who stayed during the university vacations. After his brother's death in 1925, E.F. Benson lived here all year round. Benson was a prolific writer, regularly turning out 2,000 words a day. Most of his more than 70 books are now forgotten, but not the six Mapp and Lucia novels, which were directly inspired by Lamb House and by Rye society.

Despite the acid picture of Rye painted in the Mapp and Lucia books, Benson was made mayor of the town in1934-7, like so many of his predecessors at Lamb House. It was in the nearby churchyard that he was buried in 1940.

Other tenants of Lamb House have included the biographer H.Montgomery Hyde, Rumer Godden, author of Black Narcissus and Sir Brian Batsford, designer of the distinctive dust jackets of the 1930's Batsford Travel Books. The House is now tenanted by actor Francesca Rowan and wine importer Piers Plowden and their family.

"I can't think of a more beautiful setting for the Bard than Lamb House!" Anna Maxwell Martin- BAFTA winning Actress

 

Lamb House: