Wife Alvilde Chaplin
Lockers Park School, Lockers Park Ln, Hemel Hempstead HP1 1TL, Regno Unito
Eton College, Windsor SL4 6DW, Regno Unito
University of Oxford, Oxford OX1 2JD, Regno Unito
Alderley Grange, Alderley, Wotton-under-Edge GL12 7QT, Regno Unito
Essex House, Haye's Ln, Badminton GL9, Regno Unito
(George) James Henry Lees-Milne (6 August 1908 – 28 December 1997) was an English writer and expert on country houses, who worked for the National Trust from 1936 to 1973. He was an architectural historian, novelist and biographer: his extensive diaries remain in print.
Lees-Milne was born into a prosperous manufacturing family on 6 August 1908 in Wickhamford, Worcestershire. He attended Lockers Park School in Hertfordshire, Eton, and Oxford University from which he graduated with a third class in history in 1931. From 1931 to 1935, he was private secretary to the 1st Baron Lloyd.
In 1936 Lees-Milne was appointed secretary of the Country Houses Committee of the National Trust. He held the position until 1950, apart from a period of military service from 1939 to 1941. During his tenure he was a regular contributor to the Trust's members' newsletter. He was instrumental in the first large-scale transfer of country houses from private ownership to the Trust. He resigned his full-time position in 1950, but continued his connection with the National Trust as a part-time architectural consultant and member of committees.
Lees-Milne was visiting Diana Mosley when King Edward VIII abdicated. The purpose of his visit there was to examine the 17th-century house that she and her husband Sir Oswald Mosley were then renting. He recorded later how he and Diana (her husband was in London) had listened to the King's broadcast abdication speech with tears running down their faces. He was the lover of her brother Tom Mitford when they were at Eton College together, and was devastated when Tom was killed in action in Burma in 1945.
Lansdown Crescent, Bath
In 1951, he married Alvilde, Viscountess Chaplin, née Bridges, a prominent gardening and landscape expert. Alvilde Lees-Milne died in 1994. Both Lees-Milne and Alvilde were bisexual, and Alvilde is reputed to have had lesbian affairs with Vita Sackville-West and Winnaretta Singer, among others.
After 13 years at Alderley Grange, Wotton-under-Edge, Gloucestershire and a brief sojourn in Bath, he and Alvilde lived after 1974 at Essex House on the Badminton estate, also in Gloucestershire, while he worked most days in William Thomas Beckford's library at Lansdown Crescent. While living in Badminton he entered into a feud with his landlord, the 10th Duke of Beaufort, whose foxhunting passion and autocratic manner appalled him. As a Trustee of the Bath Preservation Trust, he became a Founding Trustee of its Beckford's Tower Trust, established in 1977 to preserve and maintain the building and its collection for public benefit.
Lees-Milne was friends with many of the prominent British intellectual and social figures of his day, including Nancy Mitford, Harold Nicolson — about whom he wrote a two-volume biography — Deborah Mitford, and Cyril Connolly.
From 1947 Lees-Milne published a series of architectural works aimed primarily at the general reader. He was also a diarist, and his witty, waspish and extensive diaries were published in twelve volumes and well received. They attracted a cult following. Larry McMurtry commented that Lees-Milne, like Pepys and Boswell before him, was disarmingly open about his failings — indeed, would not have known how to go about concealing them. Nicholas Birns observes that Lees-Milne spoke "so candidly about himself, his life, and his love of art and architecture that his authorial relationship with the reader becomes a privileged one, not to be readily or casually communicated, not to be flaunted or brandished."" Lees-Milne, though, also wrote other works, which included several biographies—for instance of Harold Nicolson, The Bachelor Duke of Devonshire, and Lord Esher—and an autobiographical novel.
In 1993 Lees-Milne declined the offer of a CBE in the New Year's Honours list.
Lees-Milne died in hospital at Tetbury on 28 December 1997. His ashes, together with those of his wife, Alvilde, were scattered in the grounds of Essex House.
A series of three plays inspired by Lees-Milne's diaries — Sometimes into the Arms of God, The Unending Battle and What England Owes — were broadcast by the BBC in July 2013.