Octavia Hill fought to save the recreational open spaces that were being devoured by the expanding metropolis of London. Amongst her most outstanding successes were the creation of Vauxhall Park and Brockwell Park, the campaigns for Queen’s Wood in Highgate, Parliament Hill Fields, West Wickham Common, Archbishop’s Park and Hilly Fields, Lewisham.
She publicised her campaigns in newspaper articles such as “Space for the People” and “More Air for London”. She frequently worked with the Commons and Footpaths Preservation Society (now the Open Spaces Society), whose lawyer, Robert Hunter, became an invaluable ally and one of the co-founders of The National Trust.
Solicitor, civil servant and co-founder of the National Trust.
Hunter first enjoyed the hills of Surrey at 17, when his family left London for Dorking. At University College, London, he studied logic and moral philosophy. He was articled to a firm of Holborn solicitors and found the work uninteresting.
In 1866, Hunter won a contest offering prizes worth £400 for essays on the best means of preserving common land for the public. When a vacancy arose in 1868, the Commons Preservation Society made him their Honorary Solicitor.
His legal work led to the preservation of Epping Forest, which Queen Victoria opened in 1882.
In 1884, Octavia Hill asked Hunter for help to save Sayes Court, a manor house in Deptford. The owner wanted to give the house to the nation, but no organisation could accept the gift as a permanent public amenity. Robert Hunter was of the opinion that a new company should be established for this purpose. His proposal led to the creation of The National Trust in 1895.
In 1919, The National Trust acquired the property of Waggoners Wells, near Grayshott, Hampshire and dedicated it to Hunter’s memory.
In 1994, the Octavia Hill Birthplace Museum Trust (registered charity no.1018947) purchased part of the house, opening a museum that is entirely run by volunteers. It attracts visitors from all over the world.
In 2007, the Trust purchased the rest of Octavia Hill’s Birthplace House. Funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, the European Regional Development Fund and a fundraising appeal, the reunification project was completed in 2009.
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