Last Thursday artist Lindzi West kindly gave me a tour of her house, formerly known as the Tudor House, now the Mermaid B & B.

This is one of the oldest merchant houses dating from Lyme's most prosperous era, around 1580. Many original features remain including huge Elizabethan beams, reputably sourced from shipwrecked vessels of the Spanish Armada. The magnificent wooden staircase is as sturdy a structure as the ships that the wealthy Lyme merchants built and sailed in. Sir Walter Raleigh, a frequent visitor to the town where he had friends and trading concessions would have visited the house on many occasions.

In 1725 the author Henry Fielding paid court to Sarah Andrew, a young orphaned heiress living with her guardian uncle at the house. When the family rejected his suit the hot blooded young Fielding attempted, and failed, to abduct Sarah on the way to church. This caused a great scandal in the town. Sarah later apparently became the model for Sophie Weston in "Tom Jones".

The most exciting discovery of the house which Linzi, with the help of a ladder gave me access to was a curious, tiny hutch like chamber with a single small wooden bench inside, concealed in the attic. This was almost certainly a "priesthole". Lyme had a strong puritan background from Elizabethan times. So the occupant would most likely have been one of the puritan dissenters who had refused to conform to either the persecutions of Archbishop Laud under Charles 1st or the various Acts of Uniformity or Exclusion of his Stuart successors. In Lyme many members of puritan sects were cruelly persecuted by local Royalists after the failure of the Monmouth Rebellion, no doubt as part of revenge for Lyme's participation. Many priests were deprived of their living.

The weight of Elizabethan beams, stone steps and the secret past of the house would be suffocating if not for the transforming effect of the artwork that Linzi and other artists working in her studio have produced. Beautiful delicate portraits and images fill the ground floor with light and a vibrant feeling of a living present which moves up the stairs, settles in every corner, and dispels the dark shadows of the past.