The National Trust have been custodians of the Giant's Causeway since 1961, in 1986 it was granted the status of a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. The National Trust covers Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland and has over 3.4 million members. It protects over 166 fine houses, 19 castles, 47 industrial monuments and mills, 49 churches and chapels and 35 public houses and inns.
The Trust also cares for forests, woodlands, fens, beaches, farmland, downs, moorland, islands, archaeological remains, castles, nature reserves and villages. Protecting over 700 miles of coastline in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, in total the charity looks after 617,500 acres (250,000 hectares) of countryside, moorland, beaches and coastline. The concept of the National Trust came about in 1884 when one of its founding member Octavia Hill was asked to save a garden in south east London, the name itself was suggested by Robert Hunter. The catalyst for the foundation came about through Octavia Hill, Robert Hunter and Hardwicke Rawnsley campaigning together too protect the Lake District from development by the railway companies.
This work led to the foundation of the National Trust whose mission was and still is to hold land and buildings ‘for ever, for everyone’. In 1895 the National Trust was formerly founded and in 1896 it purchased its first property for national preservation, Alfriston Clergy House, Sussex. Octavia Hill was born in 1838, the eight daughter of James Hill, a wealthy merchant who was also a devoted social reformer, he opened a community centre for adult learning and recreation, and opposed and spoke out against corruption and self interest groups.
Octavia followed in her father’s footsteps and fought against poverty, she also was a strong advocate and campaigner for the empowerment of women, many view her as a Christian Socialist. She actively encouraged and supported people to work together across social classes towards a better society.
Her conviction was that any form of lasting care could not be delivered in isolation but only by close involvement in the community by all stakeholders. From the very beginning she engaged volunteers whom she named ‘fellow workers’, it was one of the endearing characteristics of her work which would also form the base of the National Trust. Today the National Trust is dependent on volunteers to achieve its objectives.
Prior to the foundation of the National Trust Octavia was treasurer and one of the driving forces in the Kryle Society, formed by her sister to ‘Bring Beauty Home to the People’ by enhancing community life with art, literature, education and open spaces. Hospitals, schools and community facilities were decorated and community events organised.
The Kryle Society was named after John Kyrle, who spent most of his wealth on improving the amenities of Ross on Wye for its inhabitants. The National Trust grew out of the Open Space Committee set up to save many recreational areas in London which would have been built over and to which Octavia campaigned tirelessly for.
In 1864 she began work that would transform three streets in London from abstract poverty to healthy communities with facilities, clubs and access to the arts. Her approach was revolutionary and her methodology became the foundations of not only the National Trust but also many other socially orientated housing organisations.
She believed that both tenant and landlord had to work together and each had responsibilities. Her selfless devotion to what she believed in and her determination to bring attention to and address social poverty led to her methodology spreading to other countries including America where the Octavia Hill Association continues her work today in Philidelphia.
Her Conservation work encapsulated her believe in 'pure earth, clean air and blue sky' for everyone, which she campaigned and opposed unnecessary development for, so that open spaces in the city would prevail for public use and recreation. She was the first person to use the term ‘Green Belt’ for London. Octavia Hill was also an Artist, Writer and Teacher, interestingly she also founded the Army Cadets when she formed the first independent Cadet Battalion in London in 1889.
In 1907, Parliament passed the first 'National Trust Act'. This legislation defined the National Trust's purpose and gave the Trust unique powers to protect property forever, for the benefit of the nation. The Trust now looks after a spectacular range of coast, countryside and historic buildings. Staff, volunteers and tenants are engaged daily in providing access to open spaces for people’s enjoyment, providing habitats for wildlife and improving our environment – “for ever, for everyone”