Unlike many houses that bear the names of vaguely remembered stars, Lamb House, the Sussex home of Henry James, is a legitimate shrine. As well as a famous former owner, the house has a visitors' book that resembles a Who's Who of early 20th-century writers - Joseph Conrad, H G Wells, Ford Maddox Ford, Rudyard Kipling. After Henry James died, the house was occupied by the novelist E F Benson.
For the past eight years, Ione and William Martin have been custodians of the house in Rye where the American writer completed some of his best known works, including The Ambassadors and The Wings of a Dove. As tenants of the National Trust, they have been experiencing life beyond the blue plaque and roped-off rooms.
Ione Martin sums up the experience this way: "I don't think I have any unpleasant memories of Lamb House. Living in a place where a famous writer created his masterpieces is something very special."
More than 6,000 people come to pay homage every year at the home where James lived from 1898 until 1914. He left the house to his nephew, whose widow passed it on to the National Trust "as an enduring symbol of the ties that unite the British and American people".
Many of the visitors are American, but Henry James draws fans from across the world. Ione Martin herself is Greek. She started reading James's work when she came to London after the war. Her husband, a naval architect, was also a fan. When they retired, they saw Lamb House as a way of living out their two hobbies of literature and gardening.
The Martins live chiefly on the first and second floors of Lamb House, while Henry James's memory has lived on downstairs. The dining room, the panelled drawing room and the study are filled with his belongings - books from his library, portraits, a bust by Derwent Wood.
But what is it like living in a house that only half belongs to you? Does it feel like a home or a museum? "It is very much our house," Ione Martin says, "but there are times when I go into the rooms to close the shutters at night and I see the photographs and the bust of Henry James and I remember he has been here too."
Along with the pleasures comes a list of responsibilities. The National Trust looks after the fabric of Lamb House and the public rooms, but the Martins are responsible for the rest of the interior and the gardens. They are also responsible for opening to the public two afternoons a week from April to October. …