Arthur James (racehorse owner)

John Arthur James, MVO DL (1853-1917) was the son of a wealthy Liverpool merchant who became a friend of the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII), sharing his interest in horse racing. In 1885 he married Mary Venetia Cavendish-Bentinck (1861-1948), godmother to Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother.

Early years

James’s parents were Daniel and Sophia James, Americans domiciled in Liverpool, England. He was educated privately at Woodbridge in Suffolk and admitted to Trinity College, Cambridge, on 24 February 1870 graduating BA in 1874.[1]

After his father died in 1876, James joined the family business,[2] but left in 1879. He enjoyed a period of bachelorhood with his two brothers, Frank and William, living in London, shooting in Scotland and big game hunting in Africa. Together they explored uncharted areas of Africa, and Frank, who was a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, published details on their return.[3]


In 1885 James married Mary Venetia Cavendish-Bentinck, who was the daughter of George Cavendish-Bentinck and Prudentia Penelope Leslie. They lived in Grafton Street, London, and Coton House near Rugby where they bred racehorses.[4]

On the racetrack their successes included:

Venetia James was related to the Duke of Portland, owner of racehorse St. Simon, so it was probably no coincidence that the blood line of many of the foals born at Coton House can be traced back to this great horse. After James died, his wife continued to breed and race; she won the Victoria Cup at Hurst Park Racecourse with Phalaros and Herbalist in successive years and the 1932 Coronation Cup with Salmon Leap.

James, who was a Steward of the Jockey Club,[5] placed his racehorses with trainer Richard Marsh at Egerton House, Newmarket at the same period as the facility was being used by the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII). James and his wife Venetia were friends with the Prince. Frederick Ponsonby (private secretary to the Prince) wrote of this friendship: “he (James) charming, but not having so much in common with the King except racing; she full of humour and high spirits, walking with the King and keeping him amused.” .[6]

Edward VII found that training his horses with Richard Marsh was a financial burden. Marsh had spent lavishly on his establishment and this was reflected in his charges. At one point Arthur James tried to persuade the Prince to move his horses, however, Marsh, fearing the loss of the royal patronage, asked Lillie Langtry to intercede on his behalf. Langtry, who was a friend of the Prince, sent for James and told him that she considered it a great responsibility for him to encourage the Prince of Wales to move stables. James, perhaps considering that Langtry’s influence with the King outranked his own, took the hint and allowed the matter to drop.[7]

Submerging Boat Company

In 1891 James was the chairman of The Submerging Boat Company Limited in partnership with naval architect W. C. Storey. Shipbuilder Day, Summers & Co. of Southampton, constructed a submarine for them of a cylindrical design, 96 ft in length, 9 ft 6in in diameter and weighing 126 tons.[8] The vessel, named Nautilus and later renamed Incognita was constructed in iron, with steam engines for surface running and electric motors for use when submerged.[9] The submarine sunk at its moorings before its first trial, and although raised by the insurers, the Submerging Boat Company went bankrupt.[10][11]

A dispute arose between the designer of the Incognita and the shipbuilder Day, Summers & Co. over who was to blame for the sinking and this dispute went to court. Day, Summers & Co. had some experience of working on ships with similar hull shapes; in 1877 they had modified the Walter S. Winans, a vessel designed by Ross Winans and nicknamed The Cigar Ship. The work they carried out, more than double its length and triple its displacement.[12]

Public life

Arthur James in public life was:

Both Venetia and Arthur James were generous benefactors to hospitals and other causes.


Mrs Mary Venetia James, née Cavendish-Bentinck (Samuel Luke Fildes, 1895)

James died in 1917 and was buried in a cemetery at West Dean, West Sussex, where his two brothers and other members of the family lie, including Venetia. His elder brother, Frank, had died in 1890 from a hunting accident in Africa and his younger brother, William, died in 1912.

Venetia James was related to, and godmother of Elizabeth Angela Marguerite Bowes-Lyon, the future queen consort of the United Kingdom who, following the death of her husband King George VI, became Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother. When Venetia died in 1948, she left jewellery to Queen Elizabeth and pictures by Titian, Reynolds and Gainsborough to the National Gallery, London.[16]

Arthur and Venetia James were childless. His paternal half brother was Daniel Willis James, co-partner of Phelps, Dodge & Co. His half sister was Olivia James who married Robert Hoe III. His nephew was Edward James.


  1. "Cambridge". Bury and Norwich Post. March 3, 1874. p. 7.
  2. "Partnership expired". Issue 24669 published on the January 17, 1879. Page 12 of 52. London Gazette. Retrieved November 27, 2013.
  3. "A Friend of the King". Liverpool Echo. May 2, 1917. p. 3.
  4. "A Friend of the King". Liverpool Echo. May 2, 1917. p. 3.
  5. "The King at Newmarket Races". Lincolnshire Echo. October 27, 1903. p. 3.
  6. Middlemas, Keith (1972). The Life and Times of Edward VII. London: Book Club Associates. p. 197.
  7. Langtry, Lillie (1989). The Days I Knew - An Autobiography. St. John: Redberry Press. p. Chapter 18 - The Races.
  8. The Submerging Boat Company; The Times-page 19; May 28, 1892
  9. Sale of Incognita;Hampshire Advertiser –page 4; Saturday April 2, 1892
  10. "The Submerging Boat Company Limited". Gazette Issue 26229 published on the December 4, 1891. Page 19 of 62. London Gazette. Retrieved February 1, 2014.
  11. "The Submerging Boat Company Limited". Gazette Issue 26270 published on the March 22, 1892. Page 48 of 84. London Gazzette. Retrieved February 1, 2014.
  12. "Walter S Winans". © Copyright 2003, 2006, 2008, 2009, 2011 Michael & Karen Crisafulli. All rights reserved. Retrieved February 1, 2014.
  14. "Election Intelligence". Northampton Mercury. March 11, 1892. p. 8.
  16. "Friend Left Jewels to Queen". Dundee Courier - page 2. June 30, 1948.
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