Another anniversary! Today, 9 July, the Open Spaces Society holds its AGM exactly 30 years after the AGM on 9 July 1985 when, for the only time in its 150-year history, the society booted out its president.
That president was the late Earl of Onslow, elected in 1982 largely on the grounds that his family had been generous in giving land, including commons, in and around Clandon Park in Surrey, to the National Trust.
He was not present at the AGM and one would have expected his re-election to have been a routine affair. However, the minutes record that after Onslow had been proposed, ‘Mr Christopher Hall, Mr Alan Mattingly [then director of the Ramblers] and others stated their opposition in view, they said, of Lord Onslow’s expressed sympathy for the expansion of military training on open country and the introduction of laws of criminal trespass [which were being promoted by the Country Landowners’ Association]. On a vote, the resolution that Lord Onslow be re-elected president was lost by 17 votes to 18.’ Lord Onslow had indeed represented the society on a recent military briefing on Salisbury Plain.
Unfortunately, due to a muddle, no one told Lord Onslow of his fate and he learnt of it from the Guardian Diary of 16 July, in which John Cunningham wrote:
Good to see that the Open Spaces Society is living up to the libertarian tradition of one of its founders, J S Mill. The society has just kicked out its president, the Earl of Onslow. So sure of unopposed re-election was Onslow that he didn’t bother to attend the society’s AGM. The bloodless coup came when the editor of the Countryman—unlikely saboteur Chris Hall—pointed out that Onslow approved the Army’s expanding use of Salisbury Plain. At a recent army briefing to soften up conservationists in Wilts, the gallant earl said, ‘I do not see how any reasonable person could disagree with the case presented.’ All reasonable people will be glad that the public-spirited Onslow will now be able to devote more time to his role as a governor of the University of Buckingham.
The society has steered clear of presidents ever since.