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James Lees-Milne papers

Call Number: GEN MSS 476

Scope and Contents

The James Lees-Milne Papers consist of correspondence, writings, and other papers of British writer and architectural historian James Lees-Milne. They span the years 1907-97, with the bulk falling between 1930-97. The papers are organized into four series: Correspondence, Writings, Other Papers, and Photographs.

Series I, Correspondence, spans the years 1923-97, and is organized into three subseries: General Correspondence, Family Correspondence, and Unidentified. Lees-Milne's outgoing correspondence is interfiled throughout the series. A small amount of correspondence directly related to Lees-Milne's writings, including letters from libraries and archives, scholars, friends, and acquaintances in reply to specific questions related to his research, is filed as "research correspondence" under each title for which it occurs in Series II, Writings. There is also a small body of Harold Nicolson's correspondence, collected by Lees-Milne as background material for his biography of Nicolson. This is filed under Harold Nicolson: a Biography in Series II. Cross-references for prominent individuals whose correspondence is filed in Series II are provided in the box and folder listing in Series I.

The first subseries in Series I, General Correspondence, contains Lees-Milne's correspondence with friends, social and literary acquaintances, the National Trust, other employers, book publishers, newspapers and magazines for which he wrote, literary agents, and various preservation societies, museums and other organizations. The majority of Lees-Milne's correspondents are members of the British aristocracy and literary elite. Among his life-long correspondents were John Betjeman, John Spencer Churchill, Patrick Kinross, Edward Sackville-West, Sacheverell Sitwell, James Pope-Hennessy, Harold Nicolson, Rosamond Lehmann, Anne Hill (née Lady Anne Gathorne-Hardy), and Diana Mosley (née Mitford).

There are four folders of letters from Diana Mosley. The first of these contains letters written between 1926-30, before and during her first marriage to Bryan Guinness. The rest of her letters cover the years 1963-90; there are no letters from the intervening period. Other Mitford family correspondence includes letters from Tom Mitford, Jessica Mitford, Deborah, Duchess of Devonshire, and their mother Lady Sydney Redesdale. There is also one letter to Nancy Mitford from Evelyn Waugh.

Lees-Milne's correspondence with Lady Anne Gathorne-Hardy, later Mrs. G. Heywood Hill, includes three folders of his outgoing letters to her from 1935-36. He wrote almost daily from August 1935 to January 1936, when they were engaged to be married. After the engagement was broken off they returned each other's letters, but their correspondence continues in two folders of incoming letters from her from 1941-97, with the bulk between 1965-97. Correspondence with Richard Stewart-Jones also includes a substantial amount of Lees-Milne's outgoing correspondence. There are twenty-six outgoing letters to Stewart-Jones written in 1938-41, which document Lees-Milne's experiences in the army and in hospital before he returned to civilian life. His wartime activities are also documented by his correspondence with the British Council, the British Red Cross, the Irish Guards, and the War Office.

Other frequent correspondents include Eardley Knollys, John Kenworthy- Browne, and Stuart Preston. There are several letters from Ivy Compton-Burnett, Elspeth Huxley, Lady Kathleen Kennett (widow of Captain R. F. Scott), Alan Pryce-Jones, and Michael Bloch, among Lees-Milne's many other literary friends. There are, in addition, a few letters from royalty, from several Prime Ministers and Members of Parliament, and from many prominent figures in the arts such as George Bernard Shaw, W. Somerset Maugham, Evelyn Waugh, Stephen Spender, Mary Anderson, John Gielgud, Alec Guinness, Kenneth Clark, Cecil Beaton, and Augustus John.

The second subseries, Family Correspondence, contains letters from Lees-Milne's parents, his siblings Audrey Stevens (previously Audrey Arthur) and Dick Crompton Lees-Milne, his nieces and nephew and their children, aunts and cousins on both sides of the family, his grandmother Mary Lees-Milne, and from his wife Alvilde Lees-Milne and her family. The most extensive correspondence is from his mother Helen (Bailey) Lees-Milne, which includes her letters to him as a schoolboy and as an adult, and from his great-nephew Nick Robinson, the son of his niece Prudence (Arthur) Robinson. His correspondence with Alvilde's daughter Clarissa (Chaplin) Luke and her children documents his close involvement with his wife's family.

This series ends with a group of unidentified correspondence, which is arranged alphabetically by first name.

Series II, Writings , spans the years 1907-94, and is organized into two subseries: Diaries and Other Writings. Other Writings includes, in addition to full-length books, shorter writings such as magazine articles and obituaries. The material in this series includes manuscripts and typescript drafts, notes and background material, research correspondence, publisher contracts, and reviews. (Correspondence with publishers is filed in Series I, Correspondence.)

The original manuscripts for Lees-Milne's diaries 1942-49 are not extant, with the exception of two manuscript pages from July 1947. According to Lees-Milne's diary entry for 1975 Aug 18, he destroyed the manuscripts and typescripts for the 1942-43 diaries after the publication of Ancestral Voices; it is probable that some of the other diaries met the same fate. For the first two published volumes, only the publisher contracts and reviews are present. However, a typescript carbon of Caves of Ice [1946-47] and the original manuscript/typescript of his later diaries, 1953-78, published as A Mingled Measure, Ancient as the Hills, and Through Wood and Dale, are present. These bear Lees-Milne's corrections and annotations, and contain material not included in the published versions.

Other Writings includes material relating to Lees-Milne's writings on architectural history and the National Trust, biographies, novels, the memoir about his childhood and youth, Another Self, shorter writings, and notes for a few unrealized projects. For some titles only the reviews are present, while for others there is a full complement of manuscripts, typescripts, notes, background material, and research correspondence.

The most extensive background material is that collected for Harold Nicolson: A Biography. It includes all of Nicolson's original letters to his secretary Elvira Niggeman, and a mix of originals and copies of correspondence with Enid Bagnold, Roland de Margerie, James Pope-Hennessy, Stuart Preston, and letters regarding joining the Evening Standard, which includes correspondence with Lord Beaverbrook, R. Bruce Lockhart, and a letter each from Leonard and Virginia Woolf. There are two telegrams from Vita Sackville-West on the same subject, and a copy of a 1936 letter to her. The background material on Nicolson also includes a list of his correspondents, kept by his secretary, several obituaries of Nicolson and Vita Sackville-West, Lees-Milne's manuscripts of his obituary of Nicolson for the Sunday Telegraph and the entry on Nicolson he contributed to The Dictionary of National Biography, a file of letters to John Sparrow from many of Nicolson's friends and acquaintances regarding a subscription for his 70th birthday present, and other Nicolson ephemera. For The Age of Inigo Jones, the background material includes one of the notebooks Lees-Milne used during his visits to National Trust Properties in the 1940s. It is the only example of what he referred to as his "red books" in the collection.

Lees-Milne's shorter writings are grouped together at the end of this subseries. These include magazine and newspaper articles, the script for his 1964 BBC radio broadcast, "Who Cares for England," and the discussion in print which followed it, book reviews, letters to editors of several newspapers, and obituaries and memorial addresses for many of his friends. This subseries also includes a scrapbook containing clippings of some of Lees-Milne's short writings, reviews of his books, and a few articles by other writers.

Series III, Other Papers , spans the years 1934-97. It contains certificates, invitations and programs, a list of books read by Lees-Milne 1962-96, clippings and other ephemera. The clippings include articles about and interviews with James Lees-Milne, articles about architecture, historic preservation, and Lees-Milne's friends, as well as obituaries of his family, friends, and acquaintances. Obituaries written by Lees-Milne are in Series II, Writings. Also present in Series III are a Sandys and Washington family tree and a bookplate from Crompton Hall showing the Lees-Milne coat of arms.

Series IV, Photographs , spans the years 1911-85, and is organized into two subseries: Family and Friends. While one folder in the Family subseries contains exclusively portraits and individual snapshots of James Lees-Milne, photos of him can also be found throughout the series, posed with other people or by himself, as part of coherent series of snapshots taken at the same event or on the same day. All folders containing photos of Lees-Milne are so indicated in folder notes.

The Family subseries contains photos of Lees-Milne as a child with his parents and siblings, portraits of him as a student at Eton and in the Army, at his desk in the National Trust offices before the war, and snapshots of him from his childhood through the 1950s. It also includes individual photos of his parents, of Alvilde from the late 1940s through the 1980s, and of some members of the extended Lees-Milne family.

The second subseries, Friends, includes individual photos of John Spencer Churchill, John Kenworthy-Browne, James Pope-Hennessy, Edward Sackville-West, and Richard Stewart-Jones, as well as group photos which include Eardley Knollys, Raymond Mortimer, Anne Gathorne-Hardy, and others. This subseries also contains photos from two holiday excursions. One group shows Lees-Milne at a winter resort in 1935 with Kathleen Kennet, her son Wayland Hilton Young, and others. The other shows him in Argyll in 1934 with Patrick Kinross and the Kinross/Balfour family, Frederick Etchells, and others.


  • 1907-1997


Conditions Governing Access

The materials are open for research.

Restricted Fragile materials in boxes 29-30 may only be consulted with the permission of the appropriate curator. Preservation photocopies or photographic prints for reference use have been substituted in the main files.

Conditions Governing Use

The James Lees-Milne Papers are the physical property of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University. Literary rights, including copyright, belong to the authors or their legal heirs and assigns. For further information, consult the appropriate curator.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The papers were purchased from Bertram Rota with funds from the Edwin J. Beinecke legacy, 1991-98.


14.01 Linear Feet (30 boxes)

Language of Materials


Catalog Record

A record for this collection is available in Orbis, the Yale University Library catalog

Persistent URL


The James Lees-Milne Papers contain correspondence, writings, and other papers of the author. The papers span the years 1907-1997, with the bulk falling between 1930-1997.
Series I, Correspondence, is the most extensive, and documents Lees-Milne's relationships with a wide circle of close friends, social and literary acquaintances, publishers, the National Trust, his family and his wife's family. The majority of correspondents are members of the British aristocracy and of Britain's literary elite. Among his most frequent correspondents were John Betjeman, John Spencer Churchill, Patrick Kinross, Edward Sackville-West, Sacheverell Sitwell, James Pope-Hennessy, Harold Nicolson, Rosamond Lehmann, Anne Hill (Lady Anne Gathorne-Hardy), Diana (Mitford) Mosley, Eardley Knollys, John Kenworthy-Browne, Richard Stewart-Jones and Stuart Preston. Other correspondents include Ivy Compton-Burnett, Elspeth Huxley, Lady Kathleen Kennett (widow of Admiral Scott), Alan Pryce-Jones, his literary executor Michael Bloch, and many other literary friends, nobility, and prominent figures in the arts.
Series II, Writings, contains manuscripts, contracts, background research material, and reviews of Lees-Milne's published diaries, writings on architectural history, biographies, novels, memoirs, and shorter works such as magazine articles and obituaries. Manuscripts for the earlier diaries are not present; for 1946-47 and 1953-78, there are corrected typescripts that contain material not included in the published versions. The most extensive background material is for Lees-Milne's two-volume biography of Harold Nicolson: this includes a small body of Nicolson's correspondence to his secretary, business associates, several friends, including Leonard and Virginia Woolf, and his wife Vita Sackville-West. Background material for Lees-Milne's The Age of Inigo Jones includes one of the pocket notebooks he carried with him on visits to National Trust properties in the 1940s.
Series III, Other Papers, contains certificates, invitations, a list of books read 1962-96, ephemera, which includes a bookplate showing the Lees-Milne coat of arms, and clippings. The majority of the clippings are obituaries of Lees-Milne's friends and family, but also present are interviews with and profiles of Lees-Milne himself, articles about the National Trust, about architecture and historic preservation, and about friends. Series IV, Photographs, contains snapshots of Lees-Milne and his family and friends from his childhood through the 1980s.

JAMES LEES-MILNE (1908-1997)

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.

Guide to the James Lees-Milne Papers
Under Revision
by Ellen Doon
October 2000
Description rules
Beinecke Manuscript Unit Archival Processing Manual
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Part of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library Repository

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