Lamb House

Lamb House

Lamb House Entrance

Lamb House Entrance

Lamb House is an 18th-century house situated in Rye, East Sussex, and in the ownership of the National Trust. The house is run as a writer's house museum.Lamb House has been the inspiration and setting for a vast range of authors and books alike and once played host to George I.

 

Lamb House was built in 1722 by James Lamb, a wealthy wine merchant and local politician. George I stayed at the house after a storm drove his ship ashore at Camber in 1726, Lamb House was considered the most suitable accommodation and James Lamb gave up his bed to the King for several days. In 1832 George Augustus Lamb sold the house to a wealthy local banker. An inspiring place to write. The American novelist Henry James discovered Rye and Lamb House quite by chance whilst visiting an architect friend. He was enchanted by the house and delighted when the chance came to lease it in 1897. He bought it two years later. James wrote three of his novels here, The Wings of the Dove, The Ambassadors and The Golden Bowl. He wrote in the garden room, a self-contained building next to the house built in 1743 as a separate banqueting room and destroyed in 1940 during a bombing raid. Lamb House appeared as Mr Longdon’s home in James’s novel, The Awkward Age.

 

F Benson's Mapp and Lucia novels were based on Rye with Lamb House starring in a lead role as 'Malllards', the home of Miss Mapp. Varied styles of writing have been penned here and with such central positioning in the town, it's not surprising that local characters and buildings have inspired great bodies of writing. The house has played host to many esteemed guests too. The house became a centre for Henry James’s wide circle of literary friends, including H.G.Wells, Joseph Conrad, Rudyard Kipling, Max Beerbolm, Hilaire Beloc G.K.Chesterton, Compton Mackenzie and Ford Maddox Ford. James spent the majority of his time in Rye but died in London in 1916. It was his wish to return to Lamb House during his final days but was too ill to be moved.

 

" I simply sighed and renounced; tried to think no more about it, till at last, out of the blue, a note from the good local ironmonger, to whom I had whispered at the time my hopeless passion, informed me that by the sudden death of its owner […] it might perhaps drop into my lap." - Henry James Letter. Henry James was on a quest for what he called a ‘lowly refuge,’ and Lamb House suited his desire for a permanent home away from the bustle of London life. He was 55 when he took out a 21 year lease in 1897 and settled down in the historic house, built by James Lamb in 1722. " I am just drawing a long breath from having signed – a few moments since – a most portentous parchment: the lease of a smallish, charming, cheap old house in the country – down at Rye – for twenty-one years!" - Henry James Letter. Henry James' lease now hangs in the entrance hall at Lamb House, Rye, East Sussex. The lease states that James must keep the garden 'cropped and manicured' and that the house must be repainted with three coats of 'good oil colour' at the end of the seventh and fourteenth years. In fact it took nearly eight months to make Lamb House 'sanitary and comfortable' and James moved in during June 1898.

 

Henry James grew more and more attached to Lamb House, filling it with books and paintings by artists that he admired like Flaubert, Whistler and Burne-Jones. He was also fond of the garden; as Arthur Benson wrote in 1900: " To see him, when I came down to breakfast this morning, in a kind of Holbein square cap of velvet and black velvet coat, scattering bread on the frozen lawn to the birds, was delightful…" - Arthur Benson. It was the Garden Room which had first attracted James to Lamb House and captured his imagination and it was in the Garden Room that Henry James worked on his last three major novels, 'The Wings of the Dove' (1902), 'The Ambassadors' (1903) and 'The Golden Bowl' (1904). Deep, complex and nuanced, they are now considered the epitomes of his work. They focus on ‘innocent’ Americans encountering sophisticated, duplicitous Europeans; self-deception, and the struggle to live life to the fullest extent.

 

'... of coloured china glimmering through glass doors and delicate silver reflected on bared tables…' Henry James. In the winter months Henry James wrote in the comfort of the Green Room. Lamb House clearly inspired creativity and in James’ novel 'The Awkward Age' (1899) the character Mr Longdon lives in a house that echoes James’ own surroundings: ‘Suggestive of panelled rooms, of precious mahogany, of portraits of women dead, of coloured china glimmering through glass doors and delicate silver reflected on bared tables, the thing was one of those impressions of a particular period that it takes two centuries to produce.’ Henry James' routine at Lamb House changed little day-to-day. He awoke at 8am and breakfasted in his bedroom, known as the King's Room in reference to King George I’s overnight stay in the room in 1726. James started work at 10am, writing in the Garden Room in the Summer and the Green Room in the Winter. After lunch he selected a hat - of which he had many - and went for a walk with his dachshund Maximilian. In the evenings James would revise his work, often whilst drinking tea and eating chocolate with his trusted secretary, Theodora Bosanquet. In 1924 The Hogarth Press published Theodora Bonsanquet’s account of 'Henry James at Work.' In it she fondly recalls her experience of working for James as his secretary. He called her his 'amanuensis.

 

The business of acting as a medium between the spoken and the typewritten word was at first as alarming as it was fascinating ... He took pains to pronounce every pronounceable letter, he always spelt out words which the ear might confuse with others, and he never left a single punctuation mark unuttered, except sometimes that necessary point, the full stop." - Theodora Bosquanet. Henry James had many well-connected friends and literary visitors including H.G Wells, Rudyard Kipling, Joseph Conrad and Ford Madox Hueffer (who in 1919 became Ford Madox Ford). Wells called the group 'a ring of conspirators.' James was fond of keeping in close contact with all of his friends and family, particularly his brother William, and wrote over 1000 letters during his lifetime. James’ secretary used a Remington typewriter to capture his dictation. 'It all seems,' he once explained, 'to be so much more effectively and unceasingly pulled out of me in speech than in writing. Indeed, at the time when I began to work for him, he had reached the stage at which the click of a Remington machine acted as a positive spur. He found it more difficult to compose to the music of any other make.' In 1915, as a gesture of support during the second year of the First World War, Henry James became a British citizen. His posthumously published an uncharacteristic work of war propaganda, 'Within the Rim' (1918) takes a patriotic stance in defence of Britain and contrasts life in Rye with the horrors experienced across the Channel: 'In looking over from the old rampart of a little high-perched Sussex town at the bright blue streak of the Channel, within a mile or two of us at its nearest point […] Just on the other side of that finest of horizon-lines history was raging at a pitch new under the sun; thinly masked by that shameless smile the Belgian horror grew.'

 

In December 1915, James told his secretary that he had suffered a stroke 'in the most approved fashion.' He dictated to her a telegram that was sent to his nephew, which read; 'had a slight stroke this morning. No serious symptoms. Perfect care. No suffering. Wrote Peg yesterday.' On 11 December he called once more for his typewriter, the sound of the familiar machine helping to soothe his delirious mind. Henry James recovered and lived for over two months. His mind wandered to faraway places, to Cork Island, to motor cars, to river boats and to paintings. He was still driven to dictate, as Theodora Bosanquet recounted; 'He wanted me again and dictated, perfectly clearly and coherently two letters from Napoleon Bonaparte to one of his married sisters … After he had finished the second letter he seemed quite satisfied not to do any more and fell into a peaceful sleep.' On New Year's Day Henry James was given the Order of Merit by George V, having completed 20 novels, over 100 short stories, 3 plays and over 1000 letters. 28 February 2016 marks the one hundred year anniversary of the death of Henry James, whose great works deal with intertwined themes: the relations between Europe and America, love and money, innocence and betrayal, and, as he might put it himself, all the ways in which art makes life. After the death of Henry James the house was taken by another writer, E.F. Benson. While he kept the house as James left it, the Garden Room was destroyed by a bomb in 1940.

 

There is a Braille guide available. There are three steps to the entrance of the building. The Ground floor has steps and small rooms. Partly accessible grounds, some steps, uneven, narrow and loose gravel paths. Assistance dogs are welcome.

 

Location : West Street, Rye, East Sussex, TN31 7ES

Transport : Rye (National Rail) then 8 minutes. Bus Routes : 70, 311, 313, TheWave 100 and TheWave 101 stop near by.

Opening Times : Friday, Saturday, Tuesday through October 11.00 to 17.00

Tickets : Adults £5.60;   Children £2.80

Tel. : 01580 762334