I have been fond of Rye and Lamb House since first visiting the town fifteen years ago and have visited at least once annually ever since, so with the 14th March seeing the former home of E F Benson Lamb House (Mallards) re-open after Winter closure and with a new exhibition, I couldn’t resist going along!
After getting to Rye railway Station on the morning of the 14th at about ten minutes to 11, I reached Lamb House just as the front door opened to admit a dozen or so visitors waiting outside. On entering the hall it was very pleasing to see copies of our recently updated booklet E F Benson a Brief Portrait on the table in the centre of the hall, which we are supplying free, for visitors to the house.
Following the BBC’s three part adaptation of E F Benson’s novel Mapp and Lucia broadcast last December, there are a number of exhibits from the production on display within the house. They have been carefully placed and in no way detract from the of the appeal and atmosphere of the rooms; very subtly done. The first items I encountered were three hats displayed on a side table in the hall, a straw panama of Georgie’s, a hat worn by Lucia and one worn by Miss Mapp.
In the Oak Parlour was displayed one of the dresses worn by Anna Chancellor as Lucia. A card near the dress informed visitors that when the clothing team went off to London in search of some period clothes for Lucia, they found there was nothing to be had as Downton Abbey had bagged them all, so off to Paris they had to go. In this room were a number of new paperback Benson books for sale including Mapp and Lucia and a book of his ghost stories. I have always liked this small room, paneled in oak with a little corner fireplace it is dominated by a large oil portrait of King George I. The picture commemorates the impromptu stay of the king at Lamb House, owing to the ship he was sailing returning from the continent having run aground on Camber Sands during a storm. Lamb House being the home of the mayor and the finest house in the town, the king was accommodated there for a few days till the weather improved.
The Telephone Room next. In here some pencil sketches of Lucia (Anna Chancellor) by Helen Cann are on display. Helen of the production teams art department was also the hand of Quaint Irene. The sketches on show were the ones that Irene had ‘drawn’ during the evening of Lucia’s “Po di Mu”. There were also examples of letters on display in this room. One from Miss Mapp, the letter paper header printed with Elizabeth’s monogram and Mallards, Tilling, Sussex beneath. There is also the typed letter from The Tilling Art Exhibition Committee (Miss Mapp), rejecting Lucia’s picture submitted for the annual art exhibition. Another was a letter from Lucia to the padre, the letter paper headed The Hurst, Riseholme, Worcestershire, the address crossed through, with Mallards in ink over the top. A number of new paperback books (Wordsworth Classics) were for sale in this room, including Henry James’ novels The Golden Bowl, Portrait of a Lady and Washington Square. There were also books by Edith Wharton, Ford Maddox Ford, Stephen Crane and more by other contemporary novelists. Whenever I enter this room, I always think of the time when Lucia hires a piano from Brighton and Miss Mapp’s Blumenfeldt is banished to the telephone room. As Lucia said to Miss Mapp, the Blumenfeldt didn’t suit her touch.
In the Dining Room displayed on a dummy by the sideboard alcove is a costume consisting of a green coat, brown blouse and tweed skirt worn by Miranda Richardson as Miss Mapp. Accompanying the dress is a card explaining the background to Miranda Richardson wearing false teeth in the role of Miss Mapp. Miranda said there was a lot about Mapp’s teeth in the books and that she felt hers were inadequate for the role, so she asked if she could try false ones. Miranda Richardson said, she was so glad she did. “It was a little treat at the end of make up: Oh there she is, there she blows”. On the dining room table were a number of folders, containing pictures of the production and background information on the use of Lamb House as Mallards in the BBC production. These include details on everything from the removal of Lamb House’s furniture, methods of protecting the interior for filming, how they decorated the rooms as Mallards to the rebuilding, as a temporary structure, of the Garden Room (the original had been destroyed during a WWII bombing raid in August 1940).
After a stroll in the garden, where I took a picture of Fred’s dog Taffy’s gravestone (for future reference!) I went off to meet the secretary of our sister group, the E F Benson Society, who lives in Rye, for a chat and catch up over lunch in Fletcher’s in Lion Street, where a delicious Welsh Rarebit was consumed. Afterwards Allan took me to see the new cinema that opened at the end of last year, the Kino, which consists of a bar, eatery and two screen cinema, which was formerly the old library building. Allan said it was the best thing that has happened to Rye in years, and I have to say it looked marvelous. I then toddled off to visit the antique and collectables shops including the odd charity shop before catching the train home (with my purchases, a Pratt Ware pot lid and an early Victorian sauce boat at a bargain price of £3) at 4pm. I am already looking forward to my next visit to Rye in July for the E F Benson Society’s get together.
The National Trust, anticipating larger numbers of visitors this season, have opened Lamb House an extra day each week and have also extended the opening hours. The house is now
open on Tuesday, Friday and Saturday each week from 11am to 5pm. Admission price £6.50.