Lamb House - History and Facts | History Hit

Lamb House

Rye, East Sussex, England, United Kingdom

Peta Stamper

10 May 2021
Image Credit: CC / Stephen Craven

About Lamb House

Situated within the medieval coastal town of Rye, England, Lamb House is best known as the home of several well known writers including Henry James and E. F. Benson. The 18th century town-house is today managed by the National Trust as a writers museum.

The house has also been part of the television series ‘Mapp and Lucia’ based on E. F. Benson’s novel of the same name.

Lamb House history

Lamb House was built in 1722 by James Lamb, a wealthy wine merchant and local politician. The house was built at a right angle facing the street and featured a detached Garden Room built in 1743, often used as a banqueting space. During the winter of 1726, King George I sought refuge at the house when his ship was washed ashore nearby at Camber Sands. Although his wife was giving birth to their son, Lamb gave up their bedroom for the king, who agreed to be the baby boy’s godfather.

American novelist Henry James delightedly bought Lamb House in 1849. From Lamb House, he wrote ‘The Wings of the Dove’ and ‘The Golden Bowl’, among others, soon earning himself the nickname of ‘The Master’. James usually wrote in the Green Room but preferred the Garden Room in the summer. Unfortunately, during a German bombing raid in 1940 the Garden Room was destroyed.

A friend of James, E. F. Benson was a prolific writer of fiction and ghost stories and moved into Lamb House in 1919. Writing his ‘Mapp and Lucia’ novels based on Rye and Lamb House, Benson lived at the site until his death in 1940. Both James and Benson had intimate same-sex relationships and resultantly, Lamb House became an unwitting sanctuary of creativity and queerness.

Lamb House was given to the National Trust in 1950 by Henry James’ widow, although other tenants continued to live on the property until 2018 when the first floor was opened to the public to view. Between 1963 and 1967, H. Montgomery Hyde lived in Lamb House. Another author, biographer, barrister and Human Rights campaigner, Hyde was a cousin of James’ and lost his seat in the House of Commons in 1959 for campaigning to make homosexuality legal.

Lamb House today

Visitors to Lamb House can today expect to find the iconic writing spaces as James and Benson used them. The Green Room is home to James’ writing desk and many of his personal possessions are on display. Beyond the recently restored oak-panelled reception room, head upstairs to visit the King’s Room which was used as a guest room by both authors.

Outside, you can find peace in the beautiful walled garden designed by Alfred Parsons, which secrets a garden away from the busy tourist-filled cobbled streets of Rye. Be sure to stop at the Courtyard Tea Room to enjoy tea and cake while overlooking the courtyard.

Getting to Lamb House

Located just off the A259, between Ashford and Hastings, Rye is easily found via car. For those driving, there is parking at the roundabout on Winchelsea Road which is a 5 minute walk to Lamb House via Mermaid Street. Rye Train station on the Southern line from Brighton is also a 5 minute walk from Lamb House.