Today, December 3rd, is the birthday of Octavia Hill, one of the founders of the National Trust.
Octavia was born in Wisbech, Cambridgeshire in 1838, the eighth daughter of James Hill, a prosperous corn merchant and former banker. The family experienced financial reverses, and Caroline Hill, Octavia’s mother, brought up her children alone in Finchley, London. Octavia learned her lifelong love of the countryside from these childhood days, “leaping ditches and climbing trees.”
While growing up, Octavia was influenced by her maternal grandfather, Dr. Thomas Southwood Smith, a leading social reformer. Another early influence was prominent art critic John Ruskin, who was disenchanted with the existing social order.
In 1864, Octavia persuaded Ruskin to purchase three houses in a notorious London slum known as “Little Hell” for her to manage. Her aim was to make “lives noble, homes happy, and family life good.”
Octavia’s determination, personality and skill transformed the poverty-stricken houses into tolerably harmonious communities. Communal facilities such as meeting halls, savings clubs and dramatic productions were established, enhancing the lives of tenants. She is viewed as the founder of modern social casework.
Octavia believed in the life-enhancing virtues of “pure earth, clean air and blue sky”. In 1895, Octavia, Robert Hunter and Hardwicke Rawnsley worked together to raise public awareness of the railway developments threatening the Lake District. This collaboration led to the foundation of The National Trust for the Preservation of Historic Buildings and Natural Beauty, to hold land and buildings in perpetuity “for ever, for everyone”.
In 1995, to mark the centenary of the National Trust, a new variety of rose, “Octavia Hill”, was named in her honor.
- Octavia Hill honoured at Westminster Abbey – Fiona Reynolds’ address (ntpressoffice.wordpress.com)
- LondonLife – National Trust founder Octavia Hill honoured at Westminster Abbey… (exploringlondon.wordpress.com)
- In praise of … Octavia Hill | Editorial (guardian.co.uk)
- Victorian social reformers saw beauty, truth and goodness as one. We no longer do | Giles Fraser (guardian.co.uk)
- A national treasure: Octavia Hill, remembered (standard.co.uk)