Monday 22 October 2012

What A Woman!

octaviahillIf I had been in London this afternoon, I should have wanted to be in Westminster Abbey at 3 o clock, for the unveiling of the memorial to Octavia Hill. Born In Wisbech, Cambridgeshire, in those days when your eighth daughter almost automatically got called Octavia, she achieved a phenomenal amount in her lifetime- and died one hundred years ago.

What did she do? Where do I start?

  • she was the first person to use the term ‘Green Belt’
  • she founded the National Trust
  • she founded the Army Cadet Corps
  • she was a pioneer in social housing schemes
  • she was the founder of modern social casework, establishing the Charity Organisation Society, (today’s Family Welfare Association) in 1869 to target charitable aid efficiently to those in most need
  • she worked with Commons and Footpaths Preservation Society (now the Open Spaces Society)
  • she was a pioneer of children’s playgrounds in London
  • she worked with the powerful men and women  of her day  [bishops, politicians, royalty, artists – like Ruskin and Morris] to improve the lives of countless poor and underprivileged people.

She believed in the life-enhancing virtues of “pure earth, clean air and blue sky” and wanted the NT to preserve precious buildings and countryside ‘for ever, for everyone’

Through her housing schemes, her aim was to make “lives noble, homes happy, and family life good”

She was a passionate believer in citizenship, and her work was based on the assumption of personal responsibility by both owners of property and tenants. She gave even-handed encouragement to individuals from all classes to work together towards a healthy society. From the outset, the use of volunteers - latterly working alongside professionals - distinguished and underpinned her operations.

Check out this website to find out more. There it sums up Octavia thus

Octavia Hill (1838-1912) was a woman ahead of her time. An artist and a radical, she was a pioneer of affordable housing and can be seen as the founder of modern social work. Her formidable achievements as an environmental and open space campaigner led to her co-founding the National Trust, which today protects over 300 historic properties and keeps 250,000 hectares of land open to all.

nat trust

If you have ever enjoyed an afternoon visiting a NT property, then it is this woman you must thank!

I love the description of her written by her close friend and fellow social reformer Henrietta Barnett

"She was small in stature with long body and short legs. She did not dress, she only wore clothes, which were often unnecessarily unbecoming; she had soft and abundant hair and regular features, but the beauty of her face lay in brown and very luminous eyes, which quite unconsciously she lifted upwards as she spoke on any matter for which she cared. Her mouth was large and mobile, but not improved by laughter. Indeed, Miss Octavia was nicest when she was made passionate by her earnestness."

Another great article about her here. Definitely one of my heroines!


  1. My goodness, what an inspiration!!!! She did so much! Love this post!!!! Brilliant and really thought-provoking!

  2. Hello Angela, my daughter works for the NT and was at Westminster Abbey today. She said it was a great event and a really nice service. You are right - Octavia is a real heroine!!!

    1. What a great organisation your daughter works for! Lovely to hear that the event went well - thanks so much for your comment

  3. What an interesting post! I think her character really shines from those eyes. Jx

  4. What a woman, indeed!
    I do like the comment that 'she did not dress, she only wore clothes'. It sums up a lot.

  5. I have never heard of her, very interesting. I also like the name Octavia, very unusual.

    Very interesting post.


  6. She'd be interesting,if not well dressed, to have as a dinner guest.
    Jane x

  7. I, too, know someone who was there. Here is a link to his write up.

  8. Whoops! here it is!

  9. NT magazine had a fabulous write up on Octavia and her group last year. Fascinating stuff.


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