NOSTALGIA: Portsmouth navy chief’s daughter, 19, died a fortnight before her wedding

Road Farm farmhouse in 1937 when Admiral James and his family lived there.
Road Farm farmhouse in 1937 when Admiral James and his family lived there.
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You might recall that I recently bought the biography of Admiral Sir William James.

James’s grandmother was the celebrated Euphemia Gray, although always called Effie. She had six years of unconsummated marriage to art critic John Ruskin. The divorce and her remarriage caused much excitement in London society.

Diana James aged 18.

Diana James aged 18.

She then married John Everett Millais the artist. They had several children and a daughter became Admiral James’s mother.

James later wrote a book about the marriage and divorce from more than 600 letters found years after the events. The Order of Release was published in 1948 and is a superb read if you can get a copy.

When Millais’s grandson William was about two he painted him in a portrait that became known as Bubbles.

It caused controversy in the Millais household. The painting was bought by Sir William Ingram for the Illustrated London News. Unfortunately the copyright was also bought and the proprietors on the ILN sold it to Pears.

The stained glass window in Churt church to the memory of Admiral James's daughter Diana, designed by Hugh Easton.

The stained glass window in Churt church to the memory of Admiral James's daughter Diana, designed by Hugh Easton.

A Pears manager appeared in the studio one day to show Millais how the picture would be used in an advertising campaign. Millais was furious but powerless to do anything. Shortly after it appeared on hoardings.

In The Sorrows of Satan, writer Mari Corelli had a character who said Millais degraded himself by painting an advertising picture. Millais wrote to her giving her short shrift and told her the facts. The offending line was removed in further editions.

William James refused to have any more to do with the painting even though in later years sea scouts at Hamble named their boat Bubbles which James accepted with good humour.

In later life Admiral James married Dorothy. They bought a farmhouse, Road Farm at Churt, Surrey, near Hindhead, and had two children, Kit and Diana.

Road Farm farmhouse today. Diana's bedroom was on the upper right.

Road Farm farmhouse today. Diana's bedroom was on the upper right.

Diana was a beauty who was to be married to a Maurice Whinney. Two weeks before the wedding Diana went to London to buy bridesmaids’ presents. Arriving home she became unwell and died the following day, October 20, 1938. She was 19.

Admiral James wrote: ‘How trivial became my concern over my future in the navy. We never knew before how many friends we had. The hundreds of letters aglow with sympathy helped us face this awful calamity which all of a sudden ended so many happy dreams.’

James’s friend Hugh Easton, the stained glass window designer, made a lovely east window for the little church of St John in the village. He later designed the Battle of Britain Chapel in Westminster Abbey.

Some months later Admiral James, then Commander-in-Chief Portsmouth, saw the city through some of the worst parts of the early years of the war. In later life he became MP for Portsmouth North.