Saturday 22 September 2018

Lamb House

Lamb House in Rye has been the home of many authors over the years, including Henry James, E.F. Benson, and Rumer Godden. 

I knew, without even looking, what was going to happen next: I would be 99.9% sure that I had read many novels by Henry James but I would discover that I hadn't read any of them (tick); I wouldn't know any of E.F. Benson's works at all (tick); and Rumer Godden would have written some obscure children's story that only I and 0.01% of the population remembered, which I would get really excited about, ignoring all her other more important works (tick, tick, and tick).

But before we get to the literary history, let's talk about Lamb House itself:

1. It's in Rye and Rye is fantastic
I had never been to Rye in Sussex and I highly recommend it. It's a lovely place.

Lamb House
The back of Lamb House -
I forgot to take a picture of the front
2. It was built by James Lamb
Lamb was a wine merchant who was greatly respected in the town and served as mayor thirteen times. He built Lamb House in 1723 in smart Georgian style.

3. It once provided shelter to George I
In 1726, a storm drove George I's ship onto nearby Camber Sands and he was stranded in the town. Lamb House was the smartest residence and so James offered the king his bed. This was slightly inconvenient for Martha Lamb, who was very pregnant. In fact, she was so pregnant she gave birth that night - the child was baptised two days later with the name George, the king stood as godfather and gave the baby a silver bowl and 100 guineas as a christening present.

George i
Would you give your bed up to this man
if you were about to go into labour?
4. Henry James first saw Lamb House in a painting
The house was sold to a banker in 1864 but it wasn't until 1897 that Henry James moved in, when he was 55. He had first seen a watercolour of Lamb House's Garden Room (a separate building that James Lamb had constructed next to the house) in a friend's home and went to visit the real thing the next summer. The house became available and he moved in.

4. Henry James loved the place
He lived at Lamb House from May to October every year, sometimes staying longer, before decamping to his rooms at the Reform Club in the winter. He wrote every day, using the Garden Room for his writing in summer and then the Green Room in winter:

Green Room Lamb House
Henry James' winter writing room - the Garden Room 
where he wrote in summer was obliterated by a bomb during WW2

Henry James wrote many of his best works at Lamb House, including The Wings of the Dove (1902), The Ambassadors (1903), and The Golden Bowl (1904)He also entertained many friends at the house, including HG Wells, Edith Wharton, and Rudyard Kipling who lived nearby at Batemans.

5. E.F. Benson immortalised Lamb House in his books
Henry James never married, so his nephew inherited the house in 1916. E.F. Benson, a friend of James, took on the lease in 1919. He wrote 70-odd books but his most famous works are the six Mapp and Lucia novels, which were made into a TV series. Lamb House is actually in the books - renamed as Mallards - as is Rye itself, renamed as Tilling.

6. Rumer Godden
Rumer Godden lived at Lamb House from 1968 to 1973, by which time it had been given to the National Trust. She wrote a lot of books, including Black Narcissus about some nuns losing the plot in the Himalayas, which was made into a film.

BUT - and I'm truly sorry about this, Rumer - I only recognised her name from a very bizarre kids' TV show called Tottie: The Story of a Doll's House. It was very weird and featured a storyline about a horrible china doll murdering another flammable doll by setting fire to the house so she melted.

This is Tottie on the right
with two of the other very bizarre characters
The Lamb House scone
Anyway, enough about melting dolls. What about the scones?

I had taken my sister-in-law and niece along on this scone mission, expecting the usual response when I invite guests; slight bafflement at the whole project mixed with huge enthusiasm for the idea of eating scones.

But no. They were brutal in their criticism. They didn't understand why the cream was served in plastic tubs (huh?) and they straight away sussed that the scones weren't home made. 

I explained the situation: sometimes NT properties don't have a proper kitchen and so you do come across the mass-produced scone seen below (it always reminds me of someone who has spent 2 hours a day on a sunbed for 20 years). My hopes were very low but actually it didn't taste too bad. The two Craig Revel Horwoods agreed.

Lamb House scones

Frankly, I think the National Trust got away very lightly when I designated myself the authority on NT scones. I'm a pussycat compared to the others out there.

Lamb House: 4 out of 5
Scone: 3 out of 5
Rye: 5 out of 5

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