Lees-Milne, James.

Alternative names
Birth 1908-08-06
Death 1997-12-26

Biographical notes:

The British writer James Lees-Milne (1908-1997) is perhaps best known through his published diaries of the 1940s, which chronicle his adventures as a National Trust representative in the infancy of its Historic Buildings program, his movements in London society of that period, and his daily life during World War II and its long aftermath in England. Further published diaries take the reader into the 1970s. He has told his own story, too, in the best-selling memoir about his childhood and youth, Another Self .

The second child of George Crompton Lees-Milne and Helen (Bailey) Lees-Milne, James Lees-Milne passed his childhood at Wickhamford Manor, his family's home in Worcestershire, England, and was educated at Eton and Magdalen College, Oxford. He served as private secretary to Lord Lloyd of Dolobran from 1931 to 1935, and then, after working briefly for Reuters in 1935-36, he found his true vocation with the National Trust, with which organization he maintained a connection throughout the rest of his life. At the start of World War II, Lees-Milne served with the Red Cross and the Irish Guards, but was invalided out of the Army in 1941 because he had developed Jacksonian epilepsy. He returned to his work with the National Trust, serving as Secretary of the Historic Buildings Committee until 1951, as Architectural Advisor until 1966, and thereafter as Buildings Consultant.

Lees-Milne began his career as a writer in the 1940s, with several books on architectural history. He went on to write biographies of figures such as the second Viscount Esher, Harold Nicolson, and William Beckford; art history; novels; memoirs of his own life and about his friends; further books on architecture; and histories of the National Trust and its properties. Much of his writing, including his shorter pieces for magazines and newspapers, is closely tied to his commitment to historic preservation in England and in Europe, and of England's rural countryside. He was an active member (in many cases a founding member) of several preservation societies, including the Georgian Group, the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings, and the Beckford Society, as well as a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.

In 1951 he married Alvilde Chaplin, daughter of Sir Tom Molesworth Bridges. She later became a garden designer of some renown. They had no children, but Lees-Milne was an active step-father and step-grandfather to Alvilde's daughter by her first marriage, Clarissa (Chaplin) Luke, and Clarissa's children. He remained close to his own family throughout his life, and cultivated an ever-widening circle of friends, acquaintances, colleagues, and fans, as his correspondence files attest.

From the guide to the James Lees-Milne papers, 1907-1997, (Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library)


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  • Architectural historians--Great Britain--Archives


  • Authors


  • National Trust (Great Britain) (as recorded)