12 January: On this day in history
What events happened on 12 January in history? Dominic Sandbrook rounds up the events, births and deaths…
12 January 1895: The National Trust is founded
Reformers create an organisation that makes nature accessible to all
There were no cheering crowds in London on 12 January 1895. Nor were there any scones, decorative tea towels or family-friendly toilets. Even so, this was a big day for the National Trust: the day it was founded.
The National Trust was rooted deep in the soil of Victorian Britain. The key figure was Octavia Hill, a high-minded reformer who had long believed that working people should have access to “the life-enhancing virtues of pure earth, clean air and blue sky”. Back in 1876 she had helped her sister Miranda found a Society for the Diffusion of Beauty, which campaigned for open spaces to “bring beauty home to the poor”. “We all want quiet,” she explained, “a few acres where the hill top enables the Londoner to rise above the smoke, to feel a refreshing air for a little time and to see the sun setting in coloured glory which abounds so in the Earth God made.”
At the same time, Hill was working with her friend Hardwicke Rawnsley, an Anglican clergyman, and the solicitor Sir Robert Hunter to protect the Lake District from quarrying in the fells. At the end of 1893, the three of them met at the office of the Commons Preservation Society, Britain’s oldest conservation group, to discuss a new trust specifically to buy sites for the nation as a whole. Back in 1885, Hill had proposed calling it the Commons and Gardens Trust. But Hunter suggested a simpler name: the National Trust.
The Trust’s founding in January 1895 occasioned little comment. But two months later it would make its first acquisition, the gorse-covered hillside at Dinas Oleu, overlooking Cardigan Bay. “I have long wanted to secure for the public for ever the enjoyment of Dinas Oleu,” explained the landowner, Fanny Talbot, “but wish to put it to the custody of some society that will never vulgarise it, or prevent wild nature from having its way... and it appears to me that your association has been born in the nick of time.”