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'To every landless man, woman and child in England’: Octavia Hill and the preservation movement

Swenson, A (2016) ''To every landless man, woman and child in England’: Octavia Hill and the preservation movement.' In: Baigent, E and Cowell, B, eds. 'Nobler imaginings and mightier struggles': Octavia Hill, social activism and the remaking of British society. Institute for Historical Research, London, pp. 187-208. ISBN 9781909646001

Abstract

Octavia Hill is increasingly commemorated as a key figure of the heritage movement in Britain. While her contribution to preservation is usually discussed within the institutional history of the National Trust, the chapter seeks to situate Octavia Hill’s ideas about preservation in the context of the broader heritage movement in Britain and Europe, to see both her unique contribution and the commonalities of her ideas with wider trends. It traces her links with other preservation bodies and argues that some of her internal contradictions were also representative of the wider Victorian movement. For instance, although Octavia Hill was in many areas of her work opposed to government intervention, when it came to preservation, she, like the other founders of the Trust and like indeed most preservationists in Britain, firmly believed in the need for a legislative framework. As such her, and the Trust’s wider epistemic community’s, views were also very much in line with trends across Europe. A comparison with the European movement shows that this was not least the case because most preservationist bodies exchanged ideas, memoranda and legislative drafts in order to advance their own institutions and help their neighbours. A closer examination of the transnational exchanges between preservationists, however, also helps to highlight Octavia Hill’s unique place. It is striking that while Octavia Hill had developed an important network interested in housing reform of largely female correspondents, which extended from Boston to St Petersburg, this network hardly overlapped with the networks of international preservationists. While other key figures from the Trust such as Sir Robert Hunter Canon Rawnsley or Gerald Baldwin Brown, were in constant contact with preservationists from Europe, Octavia was not. This can in part be explained by a generally more prominent role of women in preservation in Britain than in Europe. On the Continent, early professionalization of the heritage sector had largely excluded women from places of prominence, while in Britain women rose to public roles by linking concerns in art, religion and philanthropy with the question of preservation. It also reveals that while both housing reform and historic preservation were international concern, they were not as closely linked elsewhere, as they were in Britain through the person of Octavia Hill. Hence while structural reasons in part help to explain why a woman could gain such influence and importance in the preservation movement in Britain, it took the extraordinary woman Octavia Hill was to establish a lasting link between the need for descent living standards and the need for beauty, clean air and history.

Item Type: Book Chapter or Section
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Divisions: College of Liberal Arts
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Date Deposited: 12 Oct 2017 12:39
Last Modified: 13 Oct 2017 09:14
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