by Janis / 0 comments - Orginally published:26th September 2023

In the footsteps of Henry James

It was a delightful summer’s day, so Gary and I decided to head to the ancient and picturesque town of Rye in East Sussex and visit the National Trust property, Lamb House, now in its 300th year.

Lamb House is situated in the historic heart of Rye, with cobblestones beneath your feet and timber-framed homes around every intriguing corner. Just a short hop from Lamb House is the Mermaid Inn, renowned for ghosts and smuggling stories of old.

It was a pleasure exploring Lamb House and especially its tranquil walled garden; the hustle and bustle of daily life in Rye seemed a world away.

While visiting Lamb House, why not also head to two other National Trust sites, Bodiam Castle, 13 miles northwest of Rye and Smallhythe Place, just 9 miles north in Kent.

So, let’s grab our National Trust cards and explore Lamb House.

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Where is Lamb House

How to get to Lamb House

Lamb House postcode is TN31 7ES or you can find it by using What3words ///neatly.presented.relies

- By Train
The nearest mainline station to Lamb House is Rye, just a 5-minute walk through the historic town to West Street.

- By Car
Lamb House in East Sussex does not have onsite parking; however, there are plenty of car parks dotted around Rye town centre.

A little bit of history on Lamb House

From a politician to literary greats

Lamb House was built in 1723 by James Lamb, and to be perfectly honest, I can’t imagine the quaint streets of Rye looked any different then than they do today; it’s a picture postcard.

The charming red brick Georgian house was home to the Lamb family for many years. James Lamb was a local politician and a wealthy wine merchant and often welcomed distinguished guests, including George I, in 1726, more to be revealed. The Lamb family sold the house in 1893.

The cottage garden edged lawn in front of the national trust lamb house in rye, east sussex
The garden at Lamb House

In the mid-1890s, the renowned author Henry James relocated to Rye to seek solace from his critics in London. He fell in love with Lamb House and, when it became available in 1897, took out a lease and then purchased Lamb House two years later.

Henry James wrote many great novels during this period in his life, including The Turn of the Screw, which he wrote while Lamb House was being renovated. Mr Langdon’s home in the novel The Awkward Age is Lamb House.

A notebook opened to two pages of handwritten notes by Henry James on a bureau in the green parlour of lamb house in rye, east sussex
Notes on “The American”

Henry often chose to use the Garden Room in the summer to write his novels, which was initially built as a banqueting room in 1743. Unfortunately, the self-contained room was destroyed in 1940 during a bombing raid.

Henry James was awarded the Order of Merit in 1916 by George V; however, James died two months later.

Henry James was very well connected in the literary world, and guests to Lamb House included Rudyard Kipling, who lived close by at Batemans, H.G. Wells, Virginia Woolf, and Ford Madox Ford.

The view down the cobbled Mermaid Street in Rye, East Sussex
Mermaid Street near Lamb House

From 1919 until 1940, E.F. Benson lived at Lamb House and wrote many books, including the ‘Mapp and Lucia’ novels. Lamb House was the home of Miss Mapp, and Rye was the backdrop for the fictional town of Tilling.

In 1950 Lamb House was given to the National Trust by the widow of Henry James’s nephew. Literary tenants continued to live in Lamb House until 2016, when the property was renovated, and the whole house and the lovely walled gardens were then opened to the public.

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Visiting Lamb House

A Georgian family home

Lamb House is tucked away in the corner of a cobbled lane in West Street and has beautiful views of St Mary’s Church at one of the highest points in Rye.

As you step inside the charming Georgian townhouse, history is at your fingertips, with many fascinating tales waiting to be told. Some of Henry James’s possessions were bequeathed to National Trust and are on display around the home.

A ornate wooden bureau in the telephone room of lamb house in rye, east sussex
The Telephone Room
An early 20th century phone in front of a newspaper, pad and pen, on a wood wooden bureau in the telephone room of lamb house in rye, east sussex
A bureau in the Telephone Room

To the right of the entrance hall is the Telephone Room. In 1912 Henry James had Rye’s first telephone installed within Lamb House. This bright white room was used by Henry’s guests for writing and corresponding to their letters.

A.C. Benson often stayed at Lamb House and used the Telephone Room. Arthur Christopher Benson was famed for writing the words to the patriotic song “Land of Hope and Glory” in 1902.

Where to stay in Rye

The Mermaid Inn
If you fancy spending the night within a historic inn, with ghosts whispering along the corridors, then the Mermaid Inn is a must. Spooky goings-on and smugglers.

The Hope Anchor
This 18th-century former inn has beautiful individually styled rooms full of character. Relax by the fire and enjoy stunning views across Rye and beyond.

Exploring the Oak Parlour

Guess who’s coming to tea?
To the left of the entrance hall was the Oak Parlour, which opens out onto Lamb House Gardens. The parlour was used to entertain guests for afternoon tea.
The wooden panelled oak parlour complete with 1920's period features in lamb house in rye, east sussex
The Oak Parlour

Although the parlour was lined with oak panels, light shone in from the garden and the charming window that looked out upon West Street and the parish church. The room was quite formal but would have been quite cosy when the open fire was lit.

Queen Mary visited Rye in 1935 and met with E.F. Benson in Lamb House, who was the Mayor of Rye at the time. I imagine it was the Oak Parlour where Queen Mary was entertained.

A table set for breakfast in the dining room of lamb house in rye, east sussex
The Dining Room
Just along the hallway from the Oak Parlour is the delightful Dining Room. Although it looks quite formal, this charming room painted in Duck Egg blue also feels very welcoming, with the sunshine beaming through from the walled garden beyond.

If, like us, you enjoy visiting the National Trust gardens around the United Kingdom, then grab yourself a copy of the latest ‘Gardens of the National Trust’.

It’s a beautifully illustrated book, and it won’t be long before you’re planning your next trip.

The Green Parlour

James and Benson’s writing room

We’re now heading upstairs to the Green Parlour and the King’s Room; as mentioned, the first floor of Lamb House wasn’t on view to the public until relatively recently. In 2016 it underwent a three-year restoration project.

The Green Parlour is where Henry James wrote during the winter months of the year; the Garden Room, which he preferred, later succumbed to the bombings in WWII. The parlour and James’s writing bureau still retain much of its historic character.

henry james’s writing bureau in lamb house in rye, east sussex
Henry James’s writing bureau

From within this room, Henry James penned The Wings of the Dove in 1902, The Ambassadors in 1903 and The Golden Bowl in 1904.

This Green Room was also used by E.F. Benson as a writing room and by the National Trust tenants Rumer Godden and Montgomery Hyde.

Map, guides and more

If you want to discover more of the East Sussex landscape around Rye then why not pick up an OS map, we'd recommend the 'Map of Romney Marsh', which covers Rye & Winchelsea Tenterden & New Romney.

Alternatively, why not purchase and download the OS Maps App, which covers all of Great Britain.

The King’s Parlour

Fit for a King

Yes, incredibly, Lamb House hosted George I.

It was only a few years after Lamb House was built when King George I’s ship came ashore at Camber during a storm in 1726. The accommodation was sought for the King, and as Lamb House was the home of the Mayor, this house seemed the most suitable.

James Lamb kindly gave up his bedroom for several nights.

A plain four-poster bed in the King’s Parlour of lamb house in rye, east sussex
King’s Parlour
delft tyles around a cast-iron fireplace with a wooden surround in the King’s Parlour of lamb house in rye, east sussex
King’s Parlour fireplace
Henry James used the King’s Parlour as a guest room, and the wood panelling and corner chimney section is believed to be from the 18th-century. This room has been lovingly decorated by the National Trust and even has a painting of King George I on the wall.
An information board detailing 300 years of history of lamb house in rye, east sussex
300 Years of Lamb House
Next to the King’s Parlour is the White Parlour, which was historically two separate bedrooms and is now full of fascinating storyboards on the history of Lamb House.

Discovering more National Trust homes & gardens

We’ve visited many National Trust sites and explored their beautiful gardens, which are so meticulously kept. A few places that particularly stand out for me are Sissinghurst Castle Garden, Scotney Castle, Chartwell in Kent and Bateman’s in East Sussex & Nymans & Standen House in West Sussex.

Exploring Lamb House walled garden

A haven of tranquillity
I loved the walled garden at Lamb House; the variety of planting to be found in their garden was like our own garden. I’m not saying that my garden is anything like Lamb House nor as well-kept, but the types of plants and flowers were so similar.
The well-manicured gardens of lamb house in rye, east sussex
The peaceful garden at Lamb House
Lamb House’s Garden is one of the largest gardens in the old town of Rye. It must have been a haven of tranquillity. The garden was designed by a good friend of Henry James named Alfred Parsons, and you can experience it today just as Henry James would have.
A cottage garden bed in the garden of lamb house in rye, east sussex
From spring to summer blooms

The garden warmly wraps itself around half of the house and feels so welcoming and one you would love to stroll around morning and evening.

There is so much character within this garden, old red brick outhouses, sheltered corners, and a beautiful, secluded courtyard near the Breakfast Room.

The cobbled courtyard in front of the breakfast room of lamb house in rye, east sussex
Secluded courtyard by the Breakfast Room
I also loved the vegetable garden; the old walls protect the lush vegetable and soft fruits and truly makes the garden feel homely and not too daunting to your everyday gardener. Although I would love for the National Trust gardeners to assist me in my garden.
The vegetable patch in the garden of lamb house in rye, east sussex
Vegetable plot at Lamb House

As you wend your way around the garden’s edge, keep your eye out for the graves of Henry James’s much-loved dogs: an adorable final resting place for cherished pets.

Go on, grab your National Trust membership card, and visit Lamb House in East Sussex.

Our video of Lamb House

We have created a little YouTube video of Lamb House.  Why not take a look?

Also, why not subscribe to our YouTube channel and get the latest clips as we post them?

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