• Foundation of the National Trust
• First Acquisitions
• The National Trust Today
• The Founders
• Miss Octavia Hill
• Sir Robert Hunter
• Canon Hardwicke Rawnsley
The National Trust is the largest private society in the United Kingdom devoted to heritage preservation. It was founded in 1895 and at that time was one of a number of organisations concerned with heritage and social welfare issues. Two earlier campaigning organisations, the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB) and the Commons Preservation Society (CPS) were the main sources of the inspiration for the National Trust. John Ruskin was the intellectual influence behind the SPAB, which was founded in 1877 by William Morris. The CPS, after its formation in 1865, became engaged in lengthy battles to preserve open spaces, most notably Epping Forest.
In 1884 Sir Robert Hunter, solicitor to the CPS, gave a speech to the National Association for the Promotion of Social Science, in Birmingham, in which he proposed the formation of a society to protect land. His ideas were for a Land Company that would protect public interest in open spaces in the countryside and whose functions should include the acquisition of manors and gardens as places for recreation and instruction. It was not until the 12th January 1895 that Sir Robert Hunter, with his friends, Octavia Hill, the CPS treasurer, and Canon Hardwicke Rawnsley, founded the National Trust. Each had an interest in environmental and social concerns and were part of the general Christian Socialist movements of the Victorian period. The new association was named the National Trust for Places of Historic Interest or Natural Beauty.<Top>
In 1895 the National Trust acquired its first land, Dinas Oleu, 4.5 acres of Welsh cliffs above Cardigan Bay. It was donated by Fannie Talbot. In 1896 they bought the first property, Alfriston Clergy House in East Sussex, for which they paid £10. In 1902 the first public appeal raised £6,500 to purchase Brandelhow Park Estate in Derwentwater. When the National Trust Act 1907 went before parliament there were 29 properties listed in the Schedule that were either owned or leased by the National Trust.<Top>
The National Trust Today
The National Trust cares for over 248,000 hectares (612,000 acres) of beautiful countryside in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, plus almost 600 miles of coastline and more than 200 buildings of outstanding interest and importance. Most of these properties are held in perpetuity so their future protection is secure. It has almost 4,000 regular staff and about the same number of seasonal staff. In addition there are 38,000 volunteers who contribute over 2 million hours of their valuable time each year.<Top>
Miss Octavia Hill (1838-1912)
Octavia Hill was born in Wisbech, Cambridgeshire on the 3rd December 1838. Her father was a corn-merchant and banker, who was noted locally for his work in municipal and educational reform. Octavia's maternal grandfather, Dr Thomas Southwood Smith, was a well known authority on fever epidemics and sanitation and it was his influence that motivated her life. In 1852 she began work in London at the Ladies Guild, a movement promoted by the Christian Socialists. During her work she gained experience of the terrible conditions the poor had to suffer.
It was while living in London, and visiting her poorer neighbours, she became aware of the urgency of the housing problem. In 1864 she succeeded in interesting John Ruskin, who she had met earlier, in her schemes for improving the dwellings of the poor. With his help she was able to buy the leases of three London houses complete with their tenants. Housing reform became her lifes work and when Ruskin advised her to put her efforts on a business footing investors helped her to buy further properties. Her system of house management became a model for other British towns and cities and was copied by America and on the continent of Europe.
It was in 1895 she joined with Sir Robert Hunter and Canon Hardwicke Rawnsley to found the National Trust. She shared their concern about the impact of uncontrolled development and industrialisation and its affect upon people and the environment. She died on the 13th August 1912 having made very complete arrangements for her work to be carried on.<Top>
Sir Robert Hunter (1844-1913)
Sir Robert Hunter was born in Addington Square, Camberwell in 1844, the first child of Robert Lachlan Hunter and Anne Hunter. His father was a master mariner and his mother came from a missionary family. In 1861, Robert senior was sent, on medical advice, to Dorking, Surrey, and that was where young Robert became acquainted with the commons and hills which he held in great affection in later life. In the same year he was awarded a place at University College, London, where he studied Logic and Moral Philosophy.
He became an articled clerk for a firm of solicitors in Holborn, London and in his spare time studied for a Master's degree. In 1866 he wrote an essay on Commons and the best means of preserving them for the public. Following this, when a vacancy came up in 1868, the Commons Preservation Society made him their Honorary Solicitor. He achieved many successes in saving common land from enclosure, most notably Epping Forest, which Queen Victoria declared open as a public park in 1882.
In 1884, Octavia Hill enlisted his help in trying to save Sayes Court, Deptford. The owner wanted to give the property to the nation but no organisation existed to accept the gift. Hunter felt a new 'Company' should be established for such purposes, and so began his idea for a 'National Trust.' The idea lay dormant until 1893 when Hardwicke Rawnsley sought his help to save some land in the Lake District from speculators. This time the seed grew and in 1895 the National Trust was founded with Hunter as its first chairman.
Sir Robert was knighted in 1894 for his services to the Post Office, his employers for a number of years. He retired from the Post Office in July 1913 but died, after a short illness, in November of that year. Waggoners Wells, near Grayshott, Surrey, was acquired by the National Trust in 1919 and dedicated to his memory.<Top>
Canon Hardwicke Rawnsley (1851-1920)
Hardwicke Rawnsley was born on the 29th September 1851 near Henley, one of a family of ten children. He went to Baliol College, Oxford where he was a keen athlete and oarsman. Here he met John Ruskin who was to remain a lifelong friend.
In December 1877 he moved to Ambleside to become vicar of Wray Church. He involved himself in local campaigns to protect the countryside, and formed the Lake District Defence Society, which had amongst its members Lord Tennyson, Elizabeth Browning, John Ruskin and the Duke of Westminster. Rupert Potter, the father of Beatrix, had a holiday home in Wray and Rawnsley's love of the countryside had a lasting effect on the young Beatrix Potter. Rupert Potter later became the first life member of the National Trust.
He was a champion of the Lakes, always ready to battle or bully a committee, challenging and defying the builders of bungalows and railways. He crusaded hotly for the formation of the National Trust to buy places of natural beauty and historic interest for the nation. He achieved his ambition in 1895 together with Octavia Hill and Sir Robert Hunter. After the formation of the National Trust he worked unceasingly as its Honorary Secretary until his death.
He retired in 1917 to Grasmere where he bought Allan Bank the house in which Wordsworth had once lived. He died there in 1920 and in his will left Allan Bank to the National Trust.