Lamb House in Rye – a literary ladies outing

All the time we have lived here, we have never visited Lamb House in Rye. Philosopher was a tiny bit sniffy to hear that I had arranged to go with a group of friends from the WI Book Group, particularly as he reads, and enjoys, Henry James, and I have never managed to struggle through more than a couple of chapters.
    I can’t see us tackling any of his books at the Book Group either, but clearly Lamb House is essential literary sight-seeing.
    We went to Rye on the bus – supposedly for the scenic benefits but we women all chatted solidly throughout the journey there and didn’t look out of the window at all.
     Of course, we started with coffee and cake, today at the Apothecary House, one of my favourites in Rye. The front window seat is an excellent people-watching spot. I don’t think I mentioned this place at all in a post I did a while ago on Shopping in Rye. Recently, it seems to have improved in all areas, less waiting, serves better coffee and cakes, but there is no outside seating and it must get very hot inside on sunny days.

Apothecary House – excellent people-watching window

     Then we wandered up to Lamb House. By this time the sun was out and it was a lovely late summer day.

Lamb House

      Lamb House is heavy with literary associations. First, of course, Henry James lived there from 1897 to 1916. His presence attracted many other literati, including H.G.Wells, Ford Maddox Ford, Joseph Conrad, Stephen Crane, Rudyard Kipling and Edith Wharton. They either visited, or in some cases, settled nearby. After Henry James, the house was home to E.F Benson, and then to Rumer Godden. See more on the local history site.
      Rumer Godden wrote ‘Black Narcissus’, the book of one of my favourite films. I just loved that mad Sister Ruth. Made by Powell and Pressburger in 1947, apparently part of it was filmed in Leonardslee Gardens, near Horsham.
      Currently, a BBC re-make of Benson’s ‘Mapp and Lucia’ books is underway, featuring Lamb House in its original fictional role as ‘Mallards’, the home of Miss Mapp. We had to postpone a planned earlier visit to the house because it was closed for filming. (Note to readers: if you want to visit the house, go before it shuts for the season at the end of this October. Once the new telly series begins, you won’t get near the place).
       Now, I may have struggled with James, ‘The Master’, but I loved the Mapp and Lucia novels. I think they get a bit neglected these days, but they are honestly, very funny.
      Apparently, for the new telly adaptation, they made a temporary reconstruction of Henry James’ garden room, where he did his actual writing, with its bow window facing down the street. It was unfortunately bombed in 1940.

Old photo of Lamb House showing the Garden Room. Apparently Henry James is sitting on the doorstep.

      The old walled garden is surprisingly large, very peaceful, and lovely. We could have had our coffee sitting out there, but as it was we settled down for at least another half-hour of essential chatting.

Lamb House – the garden
Lovely Rye roofscape beyond the walls

      The house now belongs to the National Trust. You can only see three rooms of the house downstairs, but they contain plenty of interesting things, including facsimilies of some of James’ letters. He had a fine waspish style. I took photos of some.

Lovely round window
View towards the church from the parlour
One of James’ manuscripts
Good letter!
A dictated letter – easier to read

      He also was a technology early adopter, and had the first telephone in Rye installed in his Telephone Room in 1912.  It is interesting to wonder who he could have phoned up. Maybe Rudyard Kipling at Batemans? We have the manager of Batemans coming to talk to the WI about Kipling next year, so I can ask him.
      After our visit to Lamb House we had lunch at Hayden’s – I am particularly fond of their Welsh Rarebit. Then back on the bus – we all enjoyed our outing.

Pretty view across the Marsh from the garden at Hayden’s

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