14 January 2008
We often read that what makes us quintessentially British, or English, is being eroded by the Americanisation of our culture, or more recently mass immigration, so the role of organisations such as the National Trust in preserving and securing our history is ever more vital.
It is of note therefore that two of the three founders of the trust are from Southwark. Last year Octavia Hill deservedly picked up a Blue Plaque, and this year her co-founder Sir Robert Hunter is up for an award.
Hunter was born in Addington Square, Camberwell in 1844 which was a relatively well to do area of the borough.
However the streets were far from safe with the chartists, who were seeking votes and equality for all, using a variety of means to further their fight.
Having had their initial pleas rebuffed, gangs would roam the street initiating violence and forcing people to flee to their homes. Hunter's father was a 'peeler', and as part of London's first police force was often taking the gangs on face to face.
Hunter, when only four, is said to have only just escaped a baying mob as he scampered back to the sanctuary of his Camberwell abode.
His childhood was not idyllic, and he suffered a number of childhood illnesses that resulted in him being a rather subdued child.
When he was nine his family moved to Denmark Hill. Again the area was pleasant and the views of London stunning.
From the hill you could view Highgate on a good day, and trips to the greenery of Crystal Palace gave Hunter the taste for the great outdoors, something hard to imagine on the a visit to the areas today.
In 1861, he was sent to Dorking as his health was still not at its best and he was encouraged to explore the hills and commons that he would so fall in love with. He walked and climbed, so when he became a clerk at a solicitors in Holborn, he found it stifling and uninteresting.
The embryo of the National Trust came when he was offered the post of Honorary Solicitor for the Commons Preservation Society. The society first noticed him after he won a competition which asked for people to come up with ideas for preserving commons. He put his ideas into practice when he was offered the post, and most notably played a huge role in saving Epping Forest.
By the time he was 39, Hunter had moved out of London, but commuted in to work as a solicitor to the Post Office. He was also married with three children.
It was also around this time that he was approached by Octavia Hill. She wanted to save a garden in Deptford called Sayes Court. The owner wanted to preserve it as such but found no such organisation that existed to do that.
Hunter proposed to set up a land company that protected the public interests in the open spaces of the country.
However it was not until 1896, a decade later, that the National Trust was formally set up and Sir Robert Hunter, as he was then known became its first chairman.
Now the trust is one of the country’s most loved institutions, preserving our history for all to cherish for years to come. The trust looks after 612,000 acres of land, 700 miles of coastland and 200 buildings.
One of those buildings is the George Inn (pictured) in the borough. It is the only surviving galleried coaching inn in the country, having been in existence since the 17th Century. The inn gets a mention in Dickens Little Dorritt, and was rebuilt in 1676, after fire swept through Southwark.
If you would like to vote for any of the nominees for the blue plaque e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 020 7525 2000.
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