National Trust for Places of Historic Interest or Natural Beauty

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

National Trust for Places of Historic Interest or Natural Beauty
AbbreviationNational Trust
MottoFor everyone, for ever
Legal statusTrust
PurposeTo look after Places of Historic Interest or Natural Beauty permanently for the benefit of the nation across England, Wales and Northern Ireland
HeadquartersHeelis, Swindon, Wiltshire, England
  • United Kingdom
Region served
England, Wales and Northern Ireland
5.6 million (2018/19)[1]
Key people
H.R.H. The Prince of Wales
Hilary McGrady
Tim Parker
Main organ
Board of trustees
£634 million (2018/19)[1]

The National Trust for Places of Historic Interest or Natural Beauty, commonly known as the National Trust, is a charity and membership organisation for heritage conservation in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. In Scotland, there is a separate and independent National Trust for Scotland.

The Trust was founded in 1895 by Octavia Hill, Sir Robert Hunter and Hardwicke Rawnsley to "promote the permanent preservation for the benefit of the Nation of lands and tenements (including buildings) of beauty or historic interest". It was given statutory powers, starting with the National Trust Act 1907. Historically, the Trust acquired land by gift and sometimes by public subscription and appeal, but after World War II the loss of country houses resulted in many such properties being acquired either by gift from the former owners, or through the National Land Fund. Country houses and estates still make up a significant part of its holdings, but it is also known for its protection of wild landscapes such as in the Lake District and Peak District. As well as the great estates of titled families, it has acquired smaller houses including some whose significance is not architectural but through their association with famous people, for example the childhood homes of Paul McCartney and John Lennon. One of the largest landowners in the United Kingdom, the Trust owns over 248,000 hectares (610,000 acres; 2,480 km2; 960 sq mi) of land and 780 miles of coast. Its properties include over 500 historic houses, castles, archaeological and industrial monuments, gardens, parks and nature reserves. Most properties are open to the public for a charge (members have free entry), while open spaces are free to all.

The Trust has an annual income of over £630 million, largely from membership subscriptions, donations and legacies, investments, entrance fees to properties, and profits from its shops and restaurants. It also receives grants from a variety of organisations including other charities, government departments, local authorities and the National Lottery Heritage Fund.



Octavia Hill by John Singer Sargent, 1898

The Trust was incorporated on 12 January 1895. The founders were social reformer Octavia Hill, solicitor Sir Robert Hunter and clergyman Hardwicke Rawnsley.

In 1876, Hill, together with her sister Miranda Hill had set up a society to "diffuse a love of beautiful things among our poor brethren". Named after John Kyrle, the Kyrle Society campaigned for open spaces for the recreational use of urban dwellers, as well as having decorative, musical and literary branches.[2] Hunter had been solicitor to the Commons Preservation Society, while Rawnsley had campaigned for the protection of the Lake District. The idea of a company with the power to acquire and hold buildings and land had been mooted by Hunter in 1894.[3]:1–23

In July 1894 a provisional council, headed by Hill, Hunter, Rawnsley and the Duke of Westminster met at Grosvenor House and decided that the company should be named the National Trust for places of Historic Interest or Natural Beauty. Articles of association were submitted to the Board of Trade and on 12 July 1895 the Trust was registered under the Companies Act. Its purpose was to "promote the permanent preservation for the benefit of the Nation of lands and tenements (including buildings) of beauty or historic interest".[3]:24-25

Early years[edit]

The Trust acquired its first property in early 1895. Dinas Oleu, a piece of land on the cliff top above Barmouth in Wales, was donated by Fanny Talbot, a friend of Rawnsley. The Trust's first building was acquired the following year. Alfriston Clergy House was a fourteenth-century house in the Sussex village of Alfriston. It was bought for £10 and required a further £350 for repairs.[3]:27

In 1907 Hunter drafted the first National Trust Act, which was passed by Parliament and gave the Trust the power to declare its land inalienable, meaning that it could not be sold without parliamentary approval. In addition the Act enabled the Trust to make by-laws.[3]:30-31 Further Acts would follow in 1919, 1937, 1939, 1953, and 1971.[4]

In the early days the Trust was concerned primarily with the acquisition (by gift or purchase) of open spaces and a variety of threatened buildings. The buildings were generally of a modest size, an exception being Barrington Court in Somerset, the Trust's first large country house.[3]:34-36 Two of the sites acquired by the Trust in its early years later became nature reserves: Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire and Blakeney Point in Norfolk, both purchased with the help of a donation by naturalist and banker Charles Rothschild.[3]:36-37 White Barrow on Salisbury Plain was the Trust's first archaeological monument, purchased in 1909 for £60.[5]

By 1914 the Trust, operating out of a small office in London, had 725 members and had acquired sixty-three properties, covering 5814 acres.[3]:40


Quarry Bank Mill

In 1920 the Trust lost the last of its three founders, Rawnsley. The Trust's 5000 acres of land in the Lake District were augmented by gifts in his memory, including part of the Great Wood on Derwentwater. In 1923 literary critic John Bailey took over as chairman of the Trust. Under his chairmanship the Trust saw an increase in funds, membership and properties.[3]:50 The 1920s saw the acquisition of more archaeological sites, including Cissbury Ring in West Sussex, and early buildings, including two medieval castles (Bodiam Castle in East Sussex and Tattershall Castle, Lincolnshire) bequeathed to the Trust by Lord Curzon.[3]:51-52 In 1925 the Trust launched a national appeal to buy the Ashridge Estate in Hertfordshire, successfully raising a record £80,000.[3]:53 When Bailey died in 1931 The Times paid tribute to him: "The strong position which the National Trust now occupies is largely due to him, and it will perhaps never be known how many generous gifts of rural beauty and historic interest the nation owes, directly or indirectly, to his persuasive enthusiasm."[6]

The Trust, which already owned a large area of the Lake District, acquired its first piece of land in the Peak District in 1930. Four years later, Ilam Hall was presented to the Trust for use as a Youth Hostel.[3]:105-107 The 1930s saw an expansion of the Trust's interest in coastal conservation, with more than thirty small coastal properties in Devon and Cornwall alone given to the Trust.[3]:108 In 1934 the Trust acquired its first village, West Wycombe in Buckinghamshire, which was donated to the Trust by the Royal Society of Arts who had bought it from Sir John Lindsay Dashwood five years previously. Quarry Bank Mill in Cheshire was donated to the Trust in 1939 with an estate including the village of Styal, which had been built for the mill workers by Samuel Greg.[3]:110-111

During the 1930s and 1940s the Trust benefited from the unconventional fundraising tactics of Ferguson's Gang; a group of women with pseudonyms such as Bill Stickers and Red Biddy who wore disguises and carried out stunts when delivering money to the Trust. Their donations enabled the Trust to purchase various properties including Shalford Mill, in Surrey, and Newtown Old Town Hall, on the Isle of Wight.[7]

The country house scheme[edit]


Bailey was followed as chairman of the Trust by the 2nd Marquess of Zetland, and in 1936 the Trust set up the Country Houses Committee, with James Lees-Milne as secretary, to look into ways of preserving country houses and gardens at a time when their owners could no longer afford to maintain them. A country house scheme was set up and the National Trust Acts of 1937 and 1939 facilitated the transfer of estates from private owners to the Trust. The scheme allowed owners to escape estate duty on their country house and on the endowment which was necessary for the upkeep of the house, while they and their heirs could continue to live in the property, providing the public were allowed some access. The first house offered under the scheme was Stourhead in Wiltshire, although it was not acquired by the Trust until after the death in 1947 of the owners Sir Henry and Lady Hoare.

The first property to be actually handed over to the Trust under the scheme was a relatively modern house; Wightwick Manor near Wolverhampton had been built just fifty years earlier. Lacock Abbey, also in Wiltshire, was another early acquisition, handed to the Trust by Matilda Talbot (granddaughter of Henry Fox Talbot) after nearly seven years of negotiations. The house came with the village of Lacock and an endowment of 300 acres.[3]:84-103

The postwar years[edit]


After World War II the National Land Fund was set up by the government as a "thank-offering for victory" with the purpose of using money from the sale of surplus war stores to acquire property in the national interest. The scheme also allowed for the transfer to the Trust of historic houses and land left to the government in payment of estate duty. The first open space acquired by the Trust under the Land scheme was farmland at Hartsop in the Lake District; the first country house was Cotehele in Cornwall. Later acquisitions included Hardwick Hall, Ickworth House, Penrhyn Castle and Sissinghurst Castle Garden.[8]:68–70 The Land Fund was replaced in 1980 by the National Heritage Memorial Fund.

The work of the Trust was aided by further legislation during this period: the Town and Country Planning Act 1947 led to greater co-operation between local authorities and the Trust, while the Historic Buildings and Ancient Monuments Act 1953 allowed the Trust to receive government grants for the upkeep and maintenance of historic buildings on the same terms as other owners.[8]:72-78

A major project, begun in 1959 and completed in 1964, was the restoration of the southern section of the Stratford-upon-Avon Canal. The Trust was persuaded to take on the scheme by John Smith and the work was carried out by hundreds of volunteers.[3]:191-193

Between 1945 and 1965 the Trust, under the chairmanship of the Earl of Crawford, saw a growth in its membership from 7,850 to 157,581 and a growth in its staff from 15 to 450. The number of acres owned by the Trust increased from 112,000 in 1945 to 328,000 in 1965, with a further 53,000 acres covenanted.[3]:335-337 In May 1945 the Trust's London headquarters had moved to premises in Queen Anne's Gate.[3]:335-337

The Benson Report[edit]

In 1965 the Trust launched Enterprise Neptune, a campaign to raise funds to buy, or acquire covenants over, stretches of coastline and protect them from development. The project was successful, raising over £800,000 in its first year, but it had unforeseen consequences for the Trust as the project director, Conrad Rawnsley (a former naval commander and grandson of one of the Trusts' founders, Hardwicke Rawnsley), fell out with the administration of the Trust and conducted a public attack against it. An extraordinary general meeting was called in February 1967 and, although the reform group's resolutions were defeated, the Trust recognised the need for change and set up an advisory committee to look at their management and organisation.[3]:219-249 The committee was chaired by accountant Sir Henry Benson, who was independent of the Trust. The other three members, Len Clark, Sir William Hayter and Patrick Gibson, were all on the Trust's council. The Benson report was published in 1968 and, although broadly endorsing the Trust's policy, recommended a number of organisational changes, which were then embodied in the National Trust Act of 1971. Following publication of the report, much of the administration of the Trust was devolved to the regions.[8]:84-85


The last three decades of the twentieth century saw a large increase of membership of the Trust from 160,000 in 1968 to over two million by the time of its centenary in 1995, much of it down to the Trust's employment of a director of public relations, as recommended by the Benson report, and regional information officers. Starting in the 1970s, tea rooms and souvenir shops were opened in Trust properties and in 1984 a company was set up to operate the trading activities. Programmes of events, including plays and concerts, and educational activities were organised at Trust properties.[3]:258-268 The Trust appointed its first female chairman, Dame Jennifer Jenkins, in 1986.[3]:335

When the Trust reached its centenary in 1995 it owned or looked after 223 houses, 159 gardens, 670,000 acres of open countryside, and 530 miles of coastline.[9]

In the 1990s, there was a dispute within the Trust over stag hunting, which was the subject of much debate at annual general meetings. The Trust banned stag hunting on its land in 1997.[10]

21st century[edit]


In 2002 the Trust bought its first country house in more than a decade. Tyntesfield, a Victorian Gothic mansion in Somerset was acquired with donations from the National Heritage Memorial Fund and the Heritage Lottery Fund as well as members of the public.[11]

In 2005, the Trust moved to a new head office in Swindon, Wiltshire. The building was constructed on an abandoned railway yard, and is intended as a model of brownfield renewal. It is named Heelis, taken from the married name of children's author Beatrix Potter, a supporter of, and donor to, the Trust, which now owns the land she formerly owned in Cumbria. A refit of the premises to accommodate increasing staff numbers was announced in June 2019.[12]

Research carried out by the Trust revealed in 2020 that 95, nearly one third, of their houses and gardens had been built with wealth from slavery, or had treasures plundered from abroad.[13]

The COVID-19 pandemic led to the closure in March 2020 of National Trust houses, shops and cafes, closely followed by all gated parks and gardens. Parks and gardens started to re-open from June.[14]



The trust is an independent charity (no. 205846). It was founded as a not-for-profit company in 1895 but was later re-incorporated by a private Act of Parliament, the National Trust Act 1907. Subsequent acts of Parliament between 1919 and 1971 amended and extended the Trust's powers and remit. The governance of the Trust was amended by the Charities (National Trust) Order 2005.[4]

The Trust is governed by a board of trustees (of between nine and fifteen members), appointed and overseen by a council consisting of eighteen people elected by the members of the Trust and eighteen appointed by other organisations whose work is related to that of the Trust, such as the Soil Association, the Royal Horticultural Society and the Council for British Archaeology. The members periodically vote on the organisations which may appoint half of the council. Members may also propose and vote on motions at the annual general meeting.[15][16]

At an operational level, the Trust is organised into regions which are aligned with the official local government regions of the UK. Its headquarters are in Swindon.[17]

The Trust employs 14,000 staff, including seasonal workers.[1] Since 2009, customer services have been outsourced to Capita.[18] The director-general of the Trust, Hilary McGrady, is paid an annual salary of £190,000.[1] In July 2020 the Trust announced that 1,200 jobs were at risk due to the coronavirus pandemic.[19]


For the year ended 28 February 2019, total income of the Trust was £634.3 million. The largest sources of income were membership subscriptions (£243.4 million), income from investments (£192.1 million), direct property income (£186.4 million), and legacies (£66.5 million). In addition, the Trust received money (£39.2 million), from its commercial arm, National Trust Enterprises Ltd, which undertakes profit-making activities such as running gift shops and restaurants at Trust properties. The Trust also received £17.6 million in grants, including £5.2 million from Natural England, £4.8 million from the National Lottery Heritage Fund, and £2.6 million from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.[1]

Membership and volunteering[edit]

In the year ending 28 February 2019, the Trust had 5.6 million members (2.6 million memberships).[1] Members are entitled to free entry to trust properties that are open to the public for a charge.[17] There is a separate organisation called the Royal Oak Foundation for American supporters.[20]

The trust is supported by volunteers, who, as of 2019, numbered over 65,000, contributing 4.8 million hours of work.[1]

National Trust properties[edit]

The Trust owns 248,000 hectares (610,000 acres; 2,480 km2; 960 sq mi) of land, 780 miles of coast, and more than 500 historic houses, castles, ancient and industrial monuments, gardens, parks and nature reserves.[1]

Historic houses and gardens[edit]

Barrington Court, one of the first two historic houses owned by the Trust.[21]

The Trust owns 200 historic houses that are open to the public. The majority of them are country houses, and most of the others are associated with famous individuals. The majority of these country houses contain collections of pictures, furniture, books, metalwork, ceramics and textiles that have remained in their historic context. Most of the houses also have important gardens attached to them, and the Trust owns some important gardens not attached to a house.

The Trust acquired the majority of its country houses in the mid 20th century, when death duties were at their most punitive and many houses were being demolished. James Lees-Milne was secretary of the Trust's Country House Committee in the key period either side of World War II. The arrangements made with families bequeathing their homes to the Trust often allowed them to continue to live in the property.[21] Since the 1980s, the Trust has been increasingly reluctant to take over large houses without substantial accompanying endowment funds, and its acquisitions in this category have been less frequent.[21]

In recent years, the Trust has sought to broaden its activities and appeal, mainly by acquiring historic properties such as former mills (early factories), workhouses and the childhood homes of Paul McCartney and John Lennon.[21]

Some properties have individual arrangements, so for example Wakehurst Place is managed by the Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew and Waddesdon Manor by a private foundation; both are open to the public.[1]

Art collection[edit]

Rembrandt self-portrait at Buckland Abbey

Since its founding in 1895, the trust has gradually expanded its collection of art, mostly through whole property acquisitions. Since 1956, there has been a Curator of Pictures and Sculpture.[22] The first was St John (Bobby) Gore, who was appointed "Adviser on Paintings" in 1956. He published catalogues of the pictures at Upton, Polesden Lacey, Buscot, Saltram, and Ascott.[23]

His successor in 1986 was Alastair Laing, who cared for the works of art at 120 properties and created the exhibition In Trust for the Nation, held at the National Gallery in 1995–96.[22] Since 2009, the curator has been David Taylor, who has approved photographs of the Trust's 12,567 oil paintings to be included in the Public Catalogue Foundation's searchable online archive of oil paintings, available since 2012. Artists represented in the Trust's collections include Rembrandt (whose Self-portrait wearing a white feathered bonnet which is now displayed at Buckland Abbey near Yelverton in Devon was recently re-attributed to the artist), Hieronymous Bosch, El Greco, Peter Paul Rubens, Angelica Kauffmann, and Stanley Spencer.[24]

In 2009 the National Trust launched its contemporary art programme entitled "Trust New Art" with the idea of reaching new audiences who may not visit art galleries, museums or stately homes.[25] Through Trust New Art, which is supported by partnerships with Arts Council England and Arts Council of Wales, the National Trust has worked with over 200 artists to create new artworks inspired by their places including: Jeremy Deller, Jarvis Cocker, Bob and Roberta Smith, Serena Korda, Marcus Coates and Katie Paterson.[26]

Coastline and countryside[edit]

Cliffs and Worm's Head at Rhossili

The National Trust is the largest private landowner in the United Kingdom.[27] The Trust's land holdings account for more than 610,000 acres (250,000 ha), or 985 square miles (2,550 km2), mostly of countryside, and covering nearly 1.5% of the total land mass of England, Wales and Northern Ireland.[1] A large part of this consists of parks and agricultural estates attached to country houses, but there are many countryside properties which were acquired specifically for their scenic or scientific value. The Trust owns or has covenant over about a quarter of the Lake District;[27] it has similar control over about 12% of the Peak District National Park (e.g. South Peak Estate and High Peak Estate).[27] It owns or protects roughly one fifth of the coastline in England, Wales and Northern Ireland (780 miles (1,260 km)), and has a long-term campaign, Project Neptune, which seeks to acquire more.[1]

Protection of National Trust property[edit]

The National Trust Acts grant the Trust the unique statutory power to declare land inalienable. This prevents the land from being sold or mortgaged against the Trust's wishes without special parliamentary procedure. The inalienability of trust land was over-ridden by Parliament in the case of proposals to construct a section of the Plympton bypass through the park at Saltram, on the grounds that the road proposal had been known about before the park at Saltram was declared inalienable.[3]:215-216

In 2017 the Trust, in spite of criticism by members, supported the government's scheme to build a road tunnel under the Stonehenge World Heritage Site as part of the plans to upgrade the A303 road. The scheme would involve the compulsory purchase of land held inalienably by the Trust.[28]

Most visited properties[edit]

The Giant's Causeway in County Antrim, Northern Ireland, the Trust's most popular site
Cliveden, the fourth most visited National Trust property for which an admission charge is made as of 2019

The 2018–19 annual report lists the National Trust properties for which an admission charge is made that attracted more than 50,000 visitors. The 10 most visited properties are:[1]

No. Property Location Visitors
1 Giant's Causeway County Antrim Increase 738,508
2 Clumber Park Nottinghamshire Increase 677,136
3 Attingham Park Shropshire Increase 511,687
4 Cliveden Buckinghamshire Increase 499,043
5 Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge County Antrim Increase 497,623
6 Waddesdon Manor Buckinghamshire Increase 471,886
7 Belton House Lincolnshire Decrease 444,697
8 Fountains Abbey Estate North Yorkshire Decrease 403,591
9 Stourhead Wiltshire Increase 400,186
10 Calke Abbey Derbyshire Increase 398,837

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n "National Trust Annual Report 2018/19" (PDF). National Trust. 2019.
  2. ^ Whelan, Robert (April 2009). "Octavia Hill and the environmental movement" (PDF). Civitas Review. 6 (1): 1–8. Retrieved 18 November 2019.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u Jenkins, Jennifer; James, Patrick (1994). From acorn to oak tree: the growth of the National Trust 1895-1994. London: Macmillan.
  4. ^ a b "The National Trust Acts 1907–71" (PDF). National Trust. Retrieved 18 November 2019.
  5. ^ David Morgan Evans; Peter Salway; David Thackray (1996). The Remains of Distant Times: Archaeology and the National Trust. Boydell & Brewer. p. 23. ISBN 978-0-85115-671-2.
  6. ^ "Mr John Bailey – The English Heritage", The Times, 30 June 1931, p. 16.
  7. ^ Polly Bagnall & Sally Beck (2015). Ferguson's Gang: The Remarkable Story of the National Trust Gangsters. London: Pavilion Books. ISBN 978-1909881716.
  8. ^ a b c Fedden, Robin (1974). The National Trust: past and present. London: Jonathan Cape.
  9. ^ "National Trust marks centenary". Independent. 13 January 1995.
  10. ^ "National Trust renews deer hunt ban". BBC. 27 January 2007.
  11. ^ "Lottery cash pledge for Tyntesfield". BBC. 31 May 2002.
  12. ^ "National Trust announces refit of Swindon headquarters at Heelis in 2020". Swindon Advertiser. 25 June 2019.
  13. ^ "Third of National Trust properties tainted by slave trade money". The Sunday Times. 14 June 2020.
  14. ^ "Coronavirus: National Trust to reopen gardens and parks". BBC. 29 May 2020.
  15. ^ National Trust governance handbook, 2016.
  16. ^ "The Charities (National Trust) Order 2005" (PDF). National Trust. 18 November 2010. Retrieved 20 July 2020.
  17. ^ a b National Trust handbook 2020.
  18. ^ "Capita extends National Trust contract". Capita. 24 October 2019.
  19. ^ "Coronavirus: National Trust redundancy plan puts 1,200 jobs at risk". BBC. 29 July 2020.
  20. ^ "Royal Oak Society". Royal Oak Society. Retrieved 20 July 2020.
  21. ^ a b c d David Cannadine (May 2004). In Churchill's Shadow: Confronting the Past in Modern Britain. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-517156-3.
  22. ^ a b "An interview with Alastair Laing, retired Curator of Pictures and Sculpture at the National Trust, interviewed by Annette de Vries". Codart eZine. Retrieved 21 October 2014.
  23. ^ "Obituary of St John Gore". The Telegraph. 13 May 2010.
  24. ^ "Paintings held by National Trust". Art UK.
  25. ^ "Trust new Art: National Trust unveils its ambitious contemporary art programme | Culture24". Retrieved 28 November 2018.
  26. ^ Trust New Art guidebook (2019)
  27. ^ a b c Ian D. Whyte (15 June 2013). A Dictionary of Environmental History. I.B.Tauris. p. 346. ISBN 978-1-84511-462-6.
  28. ^ Ward, Victoria; Bevan, Stephen (4 September 2017). "National Trust faces member rebellion over backing of Stonehenge tunnel". The Telegraph. ISSN 0307-1235. Retrieved 9 January 2020.

External links[edit]