Walter John James was born in 1869, and was the first son of Lord Northbourne. He was educated at Harrow and Magdalen College, Oxford, gaining a B.A in 1901. James married Laura Gwenllian Rice, also an artist, in 1894, and had a son Walter Christopher, born in 1896. As an artist James is recorded as having studied under Davis Cooper and Frank Short, and was to specialize in painting and etching landscape subjects. He exhibited regularly at the Royal Academy from 1897, as well as at the Royal Society of British Artists, The Fine Art Society and The Glasgow Institute of Fine Arts.