125 Years of the National Trust

by Sue Duckworth

6th July 2020

This year marks 125 years since the National Trust was founded by Octavia Hill, Sir Robert Hunter and Canon Hardwicke Rawnsley in 1895.  As properties closed by the COVID-19 crisis begin to reopen, it is perhaps timely to celebrate the anniversary of this much loved and respected institution and its links to our region. The Clergy House at Alfriston in Sussex was the first building acquired by the trust. Mariners Hill near Westerham in Kent and close to Octavia Hill’s burial place, was among the first open spaces to be gifted to the trust.

All three founders campaigned against the rapid industrialization that was threatening the country at the end of the nineteenth century. Their aim was to preserve places of historic interest and natural beauty, permanently for the benefit of the nation.

Initially, one hundred people paid 10 shillings each to get the ball rolling forming the National Trust into an independent Charity. Today the President of the National Trust is His Royal Highness, the Prince of Wales.

The National Trust is now the largest charity in Europe taking care of over 780 miles of coastline including South Foreland Lighthouse and the White Cliffs of Dover; more than 250,000 hectares of land; over 500 historic houses, castles, parks, and gardens and nearly one million works of art. It currently has 5.8 million members and hopes to achieve 6 million members by the end of this year.

Among the first National Trust properties to have reopened in the South East region are:-  Polesden Lacey in Surrey, Scotney Castle in Kent, Sissinghurst Castle Garden in Kent, Standen House & Garden in West Sussex and Sheffield Park & Garden in East Sussex. So let’s have a look at what these lovely properties in our area have to offer visitors.

Polesden Lacey was the weekend retreat of the socialite Edwardian society hostess, Dame Margaret Greville who loved to entertain royalty, politicians and celebrities at her lavish weekend parties. 

Scotney Castle dates from the twelfth century and was the moated home of the Hussey family. It was Edward Hussey III who created the landscape around the castle.

Sissinghurst Castle Gardens were created by the famous gardener Vita Sackville-West and her Diplomat husband Harold Nicholson around the ruins of an old Elizabethan Manor house – each garden is like a little box of treasures to discover!

Standen House was designed by Philip Webb as an Arts and Crafts family home hidden deep in the Sussex countryside, for James Beale, a successful Birmingham Solicitor.

Sheffield Park is the Gothic Revival house of John Baker Holroyd with gardens, which were originally laid out by Capability Brown – probably the most well-known landscape designer of all.

If you wish to visit some of our region’s finest properties this summer, check the National Trust website www.nationaltrust.org.uk to see which properties are open and the booking and social distancing arrangements that are in place

Sue is a South/SE England Blue Badge Guide based in Kent