Lamb House in West Street at the top of Mermaid Street reopened in June, 2018, when the first phase of the refurbishment of the property by the National Trust was completed. This followed the ending of the tenancy of the house, the previous model used by the Trust to care for and open the property since 1952.
There will be another refurbishment phase after the property closes at the end of October, 2018 and one more after that.
Perhaps the major difference is in the feel of the house, but that is coming together the longer it is open and people are moving through it. There have been positive comments from the public about the property. To quote some of them: “lovely guides, very friendly and chatty”; “so lovely to be able to access previously unseen parts of the house. The garden is a delight”. Whilst this is entirely positive, the property is having problems recruiting enough volunteers to cover the rota, described below. In par , this is because some former guides have taken the opportunity to retire, so new people are essential. To encourage new recruits, this article is a brief resumé of the Lamb House of today.
The experience of the visitors, since the tenant left and rooms upstairs were opened, is very different from last year and the years before. The Trust also owned what had been let as a separate property, and this is now the visitor reception, giving people their entrance card for the house. The visitor then goes outside again, to enter through the shiny black main front door to be greeted by one of the volunteers, given a brief explanation about the house and its owners and the rooms that are now open.
The main inhabitants mentioned are firstly Henry James, OM, born in New York City and a declared anglophile, author of many works, of which perhaps the most famous to the general public are Portrait of a Lady and The Turn of the Screw. Then EF Benson, of Mapp and Lucia fame and Rumer Godden, who wrote wonderful children’s stories and the better-known novel Black Narcissus, were also distinguished residents.
At present, the oak parlour, telephone room and dining room, which has doors onto the beautiful garden, are open downstairs and the main bedroom, green writing room and an airing closet are open upstairs. The refurbishment of the house has improved its appearance enormously and has been very sympathetically done. What little furniture remained after the sale of Henry James’s effects when his niece handed the house to the National Trust in 1950, are also on show, with some pieces brought in from other Trust properties
A pleasant café has been opened in the former kitchen premises and the outer courtyard, which were only used by the tenants before. It is run by a catering assistant, so no volunteer involvement is required here!
Changes have also been made to the management structures, with a permanent post holder, Jenny Hatton, Senior Visitor Experience Officer, present during the Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday opening hours. There is now a separate office for the paid staff upstairs above the newly opened visitor reception.
Last week, Jenny appeared on South Today, talking about the house and her own role.
Lamb House is in urgent need of more volunteers, and though the recruitment process does rely on an internet connection, is relatively easy and Jenny will help if necessary. Fire Safety Training, for example, is completed online. It has always been a lovely, small house to work in, much more intimate than the larger properties. Those of us who worked when it was tenanted may find it so different that it might be difficult to return, but a speculative visit could be in order. New guides are really enjoying the experience and love the house as it is now.
The rota times are from 10:45am to 2pm with a half hour break and 1:45pm to 5pm with a break. If you would like to know more about volunteering, ring Jenny on 01797 222909 or 07483 355992
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Do come and see what you think!
Photos: Gillian Rodet