Open Space Movement

Open spaces and the opportunity to breathe clean air, were essential for people living in one or two crowded rooms. Octavia Hill took her charges from the Lisson Grove slums, up Fitz'jolm's Avenue to Hampstead Heath. She so loved the Fitzjohn's Avenue fields that she tried to buy them as a public park. They were to cost £ 10,000 and within three August weeks £8,500 had been raised. It needed only the end of the summer holidays and the return from holiday of sympathetic friends and the further £1,500 would have been raised, but the owners suddenly withdrew their offer.

Despite all her pleading, the fields were covered with large houses. From this developed the campaign to save Parliament Hill, the next open space, buying up fields in the path of the builders to make a permanent cordon sanitaire against the advancing bricks. The Parliament Hill Fields campaign was so successful that the Hampstead Heath Bill was passed and there was money over from the appeal. From this money and the impetus towards open spaces, was to develop the National Trust. Octavia Hill had been interested in protecting areas like Church Bottom Wood for years, so she and the National Trust were natural allies in the fight to save the Wood.

The Commons Preservation Society also, was familiar with this kind of agitation and money collection. They had torn down fencing when lords of the manor had enclosed pieces of common land, leading to both legal and illegal battles against the arrogant privatization of land which traditionally had been free. Robert Hunter, their Honorary Solicitor from 1868, was always concerned with securing open spaces, large or small, for the public. He, now Sir Robert Hunter, became the Chairman of the Church Bottom Appeal. The Chairman of the Commons Preservation Society was Mr Shaw-Lefevre MP (later Lord Eversley) who played a big part in this and other campaigns in the House of Commons. Octavia Hill had been involved in their work from about 1875.

At the same time Octavia Hill was campaigning for a Burials Bill. City churchyards had become so full and so serious a hazard to health by contaminating the wells from which people drew their drinking water, that City burials were no longer permitted. Instead, cemetries were created on the outskirts of town. There was then a movement to remove the headstones to the edges of the old town cemetries, re-inter the bodies elsewhere and turn the cemetries into gardens and open spaces, instead of building on them.

This land in the centre was very valuable and speculators were avid to obtain it: Even the Quakers had built over one of their cemetries and threatened to do so again by building over Bunhill Fields.


Page 216
<- Swipe Left or Right in this box to Navigate ->