Ninevah Relief

Preserving a National Heritage?

The History and Role of the National Trust


The National Trust is the largest private society devoted to heritage preservation in the UK. It was started in 1895, and at that time was just one of a number of organisations concerned with environmental and social welfare issues and heritage when somewhat broadly defined. Since its formation, the National Trust has developed and changed markedly in terms of how it has interpreted its role and how it has set about achieving its objectives. Since the mid 1960s, however, the Trust has enjoyed an unrivalled period of growth in membership, financial; strength and popularity that puts most other heritage organisations t o shame. The size and specific legal position of National Trust property allow it to do things that other heritage organisations can only dream of. Its size, however, also brings attendant problems of maintenance that are not faced by Government funded agencies such as English Heritage. The National Trust, therefore, provides an ideal example through which to explore the possibilities of preserving a national heritage in private hands, and also their potential problems of finance and accountability.

Formation of the National Trust

The National Trust was founded by three main individuals; Octavia Hill, Robert Hunter and Cannon Hardwicke Rawnsley. Each had an interest in the environmental and social concerns. They were each a part of the general Christian Socialist movements of the Victorian period.

Octavia Hill

A social reformer concerned with the conditions of the urban poor. Hill had a long history of work helping the poor. Octavia Hill was born to a reforming father James Hill in Wisbech, Cambs, in 1838. Her father ran a thriving corn business, agricultural estates and a substantial house. But her, father went 'insane', and Octavia was brought up by mother in Christian Socialist tradition.

Octavia first started working for the urban poor in London and sought to buy up natural land in the city for them. The reason for this approach can be seen in the title of a famous painting Work by Ford Maddox-Brown. The subtitle to this painting reads 'the ragged wretch on the left is carrying wil seeds and singular plants gathered from the countryside before dawn, and has been saved from a life of idleness and crime by his love of nature'. In 1864 Hill bought 3 houses in Marylebone Place, with money lent by John Ruskin. She called it Paradise Place. Each property was judged on its merits and had to pay its own way. She then applied the same scheme to numerous other properties in Britain and abroad. In 1875, the Swiss Cottage Fields came up for sale. Hill raised some money (£25-50) through small donations, but still failed to purchase the area and had to return the money raised.

Robert Hunter

Robert Hunter was a lawyer, and donated his legal skills to a number of causes. He was the lawyer to the Commons Preservation Society - a society that attempted to keep the public open spaces free from encroachment and enclosure by private landowners. If Octavia Hill provided the passion and enthusiasm for the trust, Hunter was the 'legal brains'. He developed the mechanism for the Trust to succeed.

Canon Harwicke Rawnsley

Rawnsley was a Lake District clergyman. He was a friend to Octavia Hill, Robert Hunter & Beatrix Potter. He was also a keen environmentalist seeking to preserve the Lake District. His grandson (Commander Rawnsley) was also an important figure in the National Trust, rejuvenating the Trust in the mid 1960s with the instigation of Enterprise Neptune.

The Spirit of the Age: Competitors to the National Trust

Both environmental and socialist concerns were common voiced in the UK in the later 1800s. The writer John Ruskin wrote about the need for beauty and for the creation of beautiful things, and he also criticised the industrial side of Victorian Britain. Likewise William Morris was a keen supporter of the preservation of open spaces. Three other societies also had the general aims of the National Trust at the time.

Commons Preservation Society

Founded in 1865 by George John Shaw-Lefevre. The CPS aimed to resist the illegal encroachment of common land so that it could remain available for public enjoyment. Robert Hunter was the legal advisor to its Open-Spaces sub-committee, and Octavia Hill was the treasurer. Robert Hill and the CPS opposed the redevelopment of Epping Forest, once part of the Royal Forest of Essex. They also opposed a government bill that was supposed to protect public access but in fact confirmed manorial rights over enclosure. The CPS was a model and forerunner of the National Trust.

The Commons Preservation Society was later transformed into the Open Spaces Society, and more recently it has become a part of the William Morris Society.

The Kyrle Society

Founded in 1875, and named after the 17th / 18th century philanthropist John Kyrle. The Kyrle Society was a society for the diffusion of beauty - principal activity was to plant trees and flowers in urban areas. A decorative branch was supported by William Morris. No longer in existence.

The Guild of St George

The Guild of St. George was founded in 1871 by John Ruskin. The purpose was to provide a National Store for the benefit of all un England. The Guild attempted to acquire land to be cultivated or turned into waste or common land as 'may in each case be thought most generally useful'; to provide schools and other educational establishments; and to build museums in which the best works of God and man were to be displayed. The Guild was hampered from the beginning by John Ruskin's dislike of legal and financial matters.

The Birth of the National Trust

In September 1884 Hunter gave a speech at the National Association for the Promotion of Social Science, in Birmingham, in which he talked about the formation of a society to protect land. He said,

The central idea is that of a Land Company, formed not for the promotion of thrift or the spread of political principles, and not primarily for profit, but with a view to the protection of the public interest in open spaces in the country.

The functions should include,

the acquisition and holding of properties to which common rights are attached; the acquisition of manors ... and the maintenance and management of gardens in towns as such, and the maintenance and management of any buildings connected with them as places of resort for recreation and instruction.

O n 12th January 1895, Hill, Hunter and Rawnsley founded The National Trust for Places of Historic Interest and Natural Beauty in England and Wales to set aside the best and most beautiful parts of Britain for the public and posterity, and to provide sitting rooms for the poor in the countryside. It is a registered company under the Companies Act.

Early Acquisitions of the National Trust

1895 First Property: 4.5 acres of Welsh cliffs above Cardigan Bay - (Dinas Oleu). Donated by Fannie Talbot into the custody of some society that will never vulgarise it...I wish to avoid the abomination of asphalt paths and cast-iron seats of serpentine design.

1896 Trust pays £10 for a 14th century home Alfriston Clergy House in East Sussex.

1902 Brandelhow Park Estate in Derwentwater. 100 acres of land offered to the Trust if it could raise the asking price of £6,500. This was the Trust's first major appeal. The Trustees sent an appeal leaflet sent to factory workers in Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds, Birmingham, etc. It was a great popular success, and the required money was soon raised, with donations from rich and poor. For example, the Trust received 2s. 2s 6d from a factory worker in Sheffield who noted, All my life I have longed to see the Lakes. I shall never see them now, but I should like to help keep them for others.

1907 Acquisition of the Country House of Barrington Court. Barrington Court proved to be a constant financial drain upon the Trust with extensive maintenance and restoration costs. The effect of this upon the Trust resulted in the fact that another country house was not purchased by the Trust for over 30 years.

1920s-40s During this time we see the impact of the work of the Trevelyans on getting donations and members. Arthur Tansley and Harry Godwin began to pursue conservation management of the Trust's lands. And Beatrix Potter donated approx. 4,000 acres of land plus houses and farmsteads to Trust, as well as numerous estates given during her lifetime. She stipulated that the farms were to be let at moderate rent and all sheep on the fell farms should continue to be of pure Herdwick breed.

Recent Acquisitions to the National Trust Holdings

1995 Orford Ness (E. Anglia) old atomic bomb trigger site, a bird sanctuary - no plans to clean it up.

1997 22 Forthlin Road - Paul McCartney's mother's house in Allerton, Liverpool - a typical example of a 1950s council house.

1997 Snowdonia appeal ( £4.16 million raised in 3 months with Sir Anthony Hopkins as chair of the fundraisng committee)

1997 Sunnycroft - a red brick suburban villa in Shropshire, complete with original Victorian and Edwardian fittings. Owned by 4 generations of theLander family and left to the NT along with £640,000 by Joan Lander.

2000 Several back-to-back slums in the Jewelry Quarter in Birmingham

2002 Tyntesfield. A 127 year old country house with 539 acres of land. First stately home purchase for more than a decade. 'Priceless' example of the Victorian Country House. Receives a £ 17,425,000 grant from the National Heritage Memorial Fund to help the NT purchase the property in face of competition from individual purchasers (Kylie Minogue rumoured to have been interested).

Current State of the National Trust

Director-General: Fiona Reynolds

Land: 590,500 acres of land owned, (25% of Lake District, 10% of Peak District) 79,500 with legal covenant to restrict development. 600+ miles of coastline in England, Wales and N. Ireland (20% of coastline)

Properties: 1000 farms, 20,000 properties, 200 shops, 200 + country gardens

Staff: 2,800 permanent staff (3, 200 voluntary staff)

Members: More than 2,800,000 members. (30,000 members in the USA as part of the Royal Oak Foundation)

Visitors: 10 million paying visitors to their charging properties, and many millions more to their free access land. In 1990 they served 4 million cups of tea alone.

Annual Income 2001 - 2002: £ 251,272,000

Annual Expenditure 2001 - 2002: £ 250,572,000

National Trust Accounts 2001-2002

Trends in Acquisition Policy and Vision

1895 - 1914 Preserving Open Spaces 1914 - 1945 Proclaiming Spiritual Values 1945 - 1965 Rescuing Country Homes and Estates Country Garden Scheme 1965 - Safeguarding the Environment Enterprise Neptune 2000 - Accessibility in the Modern Era 1895 - 1914 Preserving Open Spaces

The original founders of the National Trust are essentially left of centre liberal reformers who want to provide opportunities for the poor to experience the countryside. They are also anti-landlord in their desire for free access to land.

1914 -1945 Proclaiming Spiritual Values

Under the stewardship of Trevelyan, Norman and Brett, the National Trust is acquiring land and key aspects of British rural life &endash; castles, post offices, villages to preserve the sense of British decency being encroached upon by the expansion of the towns. National Trust is just slightly right of centre, and more pro-landlords.

1945 - 1965 Rescuing Country Homes and Estates

Up to 1936, the National Trust had acquired a number of properties, primarily small buildings of medieval origin This changed just before the Second World War. Due to the costs of death duties and inheritance tax, the death of family members in World War I, and the cheap import of agricultural products from abroad, many landowners were forced to sell off their possessions and then their estates (40% of capital value each generation). Country Life magazine asked to draw up a list of those properties that must be saved for the nation. (60 big, 600 smaller buildings).

1936 'Country House Committee' set up

1937 National Trust Act - updates the 1907 act adding that the National Trust should be allowed to acquire and hold land or investments, to act as endowments for great houses.Why should donors give to the N.T.? Once given, the donors were no longer responsible for further tax.

Post 1937 - taxation and rising costs force landowners out of their major country houses.

Legislation passed to allow the National Trust to take over the running of these houses.

1940: National Trust acquires Bickling Hall, Wightwick Manor and starts the Country House Scheme. Often allows the original owners of the house to stay in the home.

1974 Exhibition at the Victoria and Alberta Museum. Roy Strong - The Destruction of the Country House

This exhibition made people aware of the selling off of collections to pay for taxes on inheritance. Followed closely by the Mentmore Hall case.

There are now more than 70 country houses in National Trust Holdings &endash; out of approximately 5000 in total. Many of great houses, however, still in individual hands &endash; i.e. Chatsworth, Longleat, Woburn, etc.

Country Garden Scheme

Post WWII: National Trust starts the Gardens Scheme. It starts acquiring gardens, many attached to stately homes.

1965 - Safeguarding the Environment

Enterprise Neptune Originally started by Commander Rawnsley - grandson of Hardwick Rawnsley as a way of getting spirit back into the NT and increasing the involvement of its members. Operation Neptune was also seen as a way of shaking up the NT to make it more efficient.

In 1962 the Trust starts Enterprise Neptune to protect the coastline. An initial survey of the coastline noted that there were 3000 miles of coastline in England and Wales. Of these:

2000 - Accessibility and Inclusion

In 2000 Fiona Reynolds is appointed as the new Chair of the National Trust and sets out to bring the Trust into the new millenium. A number of new developments arise. The Trust starts to look at the acquisition of properties that directly relate to the lives of the urban and poorer classes. Purchases in Birmingham address this point. The Trust also attempts to make itself more inclusive (i.e. attractive to an audience that goes beyond its usual membership and paying visitors). As part of this approach, the National trust has recently opened to the public the old workhouse in Southwell in Nottinghamshire, displayed and purchased because it best illustrated the harsh treatment of the poor following the passing of the Poor law in 1832.

The Trust decides to sell off the leasehold and some freeholds to properties donated to the trust which cannot attract paying visitors and that still require maintenance. Raises money for the Trust.

Special Powers conferred by Parliament

National Trust Act (1907) Act of Parliament

property in the ownership of the National Trust is inalienable - it cannot be sold on, or taken away from them. But, they cannot remortgage it either. The government cannot compulsory purchase it.

National Trust Act (1935)

Country House Scheme; landed aristocracy going bust - houses and contents being sold dispersed, aristocratic way of life disappearing. Scheme started to buy acquire country houses. Many donated - NT allows owners to live in house for a small rent. Special act of Parliament passed to allow this to happen.

Criticisms of the National Trust

In 1995, on the 100th anniversary of the formation of the National Trust, a number of trenchant criticisms were raised. These included:

Recent Policies

1996 The NT attempts to keep cars out of Prior Park Garden (near Bath): everyone should come by bus or on foot. Not liked by the local county council.

1997 Bans deer hunting on its properties because report tells of their suffering when hunted. But still current debate on this at the AGMs of the NT in October.

1999 Plans to encourage its farms to go organic where appropriate (approx2-5% of NT farms are currently organic - same as in the UK as a whole).

2001 Starts to pursue a policy of social inclusion.

Tensions in the National Trust

The National Trust has been anti-landlord and pro-access, and pro-landlord and anti access to country side. It has been elite and popular. It has seen the national heritage as best represented in the open spaces or in the refined world of the country house. It has been for the urban poor and for the countryside lobby.

Now it has to manage and conserve its properties finding a balance between access to its large membership and restriction to allow conservation. The aim is sustainable development. But the inalienability of its properties means that it can never go back on what it has, and therefore it has to continually maintain a large income stream.

Link to the ALGY 399 Sydney Jones Library Reading List.

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