Was it a coincidence, or clever timing? Today (13 August) the National Trust announced the appointment of its new director-general, Helen Ghosh. Today was also the centenary of the death of one of its founders, Octavia Hill. Octavia would surely have been pleased at this succession of women at the top of the trust, after generations of men – first Fiona Reynolds and now Helen. Congratulations to them both.
People tend to forget that Octavia was not only a founder of the trust but was, before that, an activist in the Commons Preservation Society (now the Open Spaces Society). Gillian Darley, in her biography of Octavia reports that by late 1875 (20 years before the trust was formed) Octavia was fully involved in the Commons Preservation Society, campaigning for open spaces for the public good (she called them the ‘open-air sitting-rooms for the poor’). And at the society’s AGM in 1888 she seconded a motion calling for the better protection of footpaths and roadside wastes. She would no doubt be dismayed at the many threats which face our open spaces today, but pleased that the Open Spaces Society and the trust are continuing the campaign.
This evening there was a programme on radio 4 about Octavia, and you can listen to it for the next seven days here.
I feel confident that Helen Ghosh will, as Fiona has done, follow Octavia’s inspirational lead in championing the acquisition of open spaces before stately homes, for the health and recreation of the nation. The trust will be in good hands.