Social Reformer & Founder of the National Trust
Date of publication: July 2010
Publisher: Francis Boutle
By the age of 50, Octavia Hill was one of the most influential women of the Victorian era, but she began life without formal education, as the eighth daughter of eleven children in a family of little rank and no money.
Today, she is chiefly remembered as one of the founders of the National Trust. But her work started in the grim slums of Mayhew’s London, where she was a champion of housing reform, managing small groups of dwellings, the first of which were bought by John Ruskin, and trying to improve the quality of life, as well as the living conditions, of the working-class poor.
Before long her experience and opinions were being sought by legislators, Select Committees and Royal Commissions, by colleagues in Europe and the USA. She was offered a position as Government Inspector, which would have made her the first woman civil servant, but turned it down in order to continue her work. Her most lasting legacy was the succession of fellow-workers who made their careers as the first women in local government and housing management.
Octavia fought to keep developers at bay and preserve open spaces for the the use of the poor. Her achievements include securing Parliament Hill Fields in London, the first purchases of the National Trust in the Lake District, and parts of her beloved High Weald in Kent. She suggested a network of paths, ‘a green belt’ as she called it, linking open spaces already secured for Londoners.
Octavia Hill was first published in 1990 to great acclaim and has been substantially revised for this paperback edition.
Gillian Darley is a writer, lecturer and broadcaster on architecture and landscape. Her first book Villages of Vision, which led her to Octavia Hill and Victorian reforming women, was revised and reissued in 2007. Her biographies of John Soane (1999) and John Evelyn (2006) were both shortlisted for the James Tait Black Memorial Prize. She was the architectural correspondant of the Observer and is a regular contributor to the London Review of Books and the TLS. Since 2008 she has been on the Council of the National Trust, representing the SPAB, of which she is a Trustee.