I arrive at the National Trust’s Lamb House to be greeted warmly by the current tenants, Patrick and Jacquetta Rogers. In the garden in the warm sun of a late September afternoon, the sound of Jack Teagarden is playing somewhere and as I recline into a wicker chair I realise it’s the perfect setting to catch up on what’s happening at this landmark residence.
The couple have lived here for the best part of two years, with this year being possibly the most eventful year for the house to date. It was their daughter Francesca who brought them here as frequent visitors, when her family lived here from 2008 until 2012. Francesca set a cracking pace in her tenure with the introduction of the Lamb Players’ annual Shakespeare events and the first Christmas Show in 2011, both of which have become established fixtures on the Rye scene.
This summer however, the first major event was the arrival of the BBC to film the new adaptation of EF Benson’s Mapp & Lucia with the house and garden being a set for most of May and June and 10 days in July. This was a big disruption – so much so that the couple had to move out!
Mr Rogers asserts that it was clearly a great thing to do, not just for the house, but for the town and the production itself. The fact that this series was filmed on location at Lamb House, unlike the previous 1985 series, he says, is interesting with regards to how it will affect visitor numbers next year. He adds that the National Trust is already thinking about adding new exhibits relating to the BBC’s production and to Benson.
This year the house has extended opening hours from 11am to 5.30pm on Saturdays and Tuesdays. Mr Rogers informs me that this has already seen a 40% to 45% increase in footfall, before what he refers to as the “Mapp & Lucia effect” kicks in. All this is great not just for the Trust but for Rye, too.
The Rogerses also had the Rye Arts Festival this year, using a marquee in the garden for the second year in a row. Mr Rogers is keen to mention that last year’s involvement was the first time for the house in the festival’s 43 year history.
Still to come this year are broadcaster and playwright Richard Crowest reading Ghost Stories on Sunday November 2 (now in its third year) and the Lamb Players return in December for their fourth Christmas Show (dates to be confirmed). Plans are also afoot to host a Christmas Fair in aid of local charities if enough retail participation is forthcoming.
Meanwhile, Lamb House is open until Saturday October 25, with next year possibly bringing more extended opening hours. They’re therefore keen to hear from anyone interested in volunteering. It’s a sensational place, steeped in history and a very friendly environment. While the interiors provide their own fascination, the garden (the largest in Rye’s citadel at close to an acre) provides an enchanting idyl to get your hands dirty in throughout the seasons.
If you would like to get involved as a volunteer or at the Christmas Fair, get in touch with Mr Rogers at Lamb House on his mobile: 07711 420702.
Tickets to Richard Crowest’s Ghost Stories on Sunday November 2, at 4.30pm and 7pm, cost £12 and are available from Grammar School Records on the High Street (01797 222752).