James Lees-Milne – Extracts from his Diaries

re Edwin Lutyens

2 January 1944: ‘Sir Edwin Lutyens has died. He was the best architect of our time. Robert Byron always maintained this. Lutyens had the manner of a genius. I only met him once while staying at Batsford with the Dulvertons. He came over with some friends, and after tea took me aside in order to regale me with puns and obscene witticisms. Very funny too. I remember Victoria Dulverton saying afterwards how nervous she was lest he might say things that would embarrass her. He was leonine, breezy, untidy, flamboyant and inspired.’

13 February 1945: ‘To a lecture at the R.I.B.A. given by Goodhart-Rendel on Lutyens. Very good indeed, in spite of his speaking too fast, and lisping. He convinced his audience that Lutyens was an architect of the highest calibre, vide his Viceroy’s House at Delhi, and designs for Liverpool Cathedral, with its medley of piers in the nave and huge space under the dome. Anstey said that Lutyens would take his place among the immortal dome builders, Michelangelo and Wren.

16 September 1945: ‘Before luncheon we walked around the Castle (Lindisfarne). All the furniture was bought from Edward Hudson, and so is good of its sort, the bulk of the sort being oak. De Stein has given the contents to the Trust with the Castle. It is a charming little castle, all stone steps and passageways with low vaulted ceilings. The interior is totally Lutyens. The walls are so thick that summer and winter a fire of logs washed up from the wrecks, flotsam and jetsam, has to be kept burning. There is no electric light, but dozens of candles are kept alight even by day.

26 July 1947: ‘Austin Hall, the architect, to tea. He told us … that Lutyens was the greatest architect of the last 100 years; that Gerry Wellesley and Goodhart-Rendel never rose to greatness because, being rich men, they did not trouble to learn. I don’t altogether agree with this. Hall said they were both better interior decorators than Lutyens, Baker or Giles Scott.

30 July 1948: ‘This evening I motored Malcolm Bullock to his house near Cambridge. Middlefield, it is called, built by Lutyens in 1910, on the grand scale in miniature. Of small, regular bricks very trimly laid. Nothing ingle-nooky about it. Perfect size for a widower. Pretty formal sweep of garden between yews. ….Lutyens evidently played a joke on the bachelor for whom he built this house. The staircase ceiling is supported by one stout twisted column, so fashioned to reproduce the outlines of the female bosom and buttocks, always there as you move round the newel post, either ascending or descending.’

These extracts are by courtesy of Michael Bloch, biographer and literary executor of James Lees-Milne (1908-1997). For a complete publishing history and current availability visit the comprehensive website www.jamesleesmilne.com

Michael Barker