National Geographic : 1945 Apr
The Preservation of England's Historic and Scenic Treasures BY ERIC UNDERWOOD (Many Years'Member of the Executive Committee, National Trust) ONG before other countries, the United States set up State and Federal agencies to safeguard for all time outstanding scenic areas and haunts of wildlife. Stephen Tyng Mather was the great enthusiast and leader in the movement. "There will never come an end to the good that he has done" reads the epitaph on the memorial tablet to Stephen Tyng Mather in 17 of the U. S. National Parks. Mather's life work was the organization and planning of the U. S. National Parks System. The Trustees of Public Reservations of the State of Massachusetts, founded by public spirited people living in the neighborhood of Boston, began activities more than half a century ago. Conscious of the loss the State was suffering by the destruction of historic landmarks and of the danger of allowing the countryside to be built over indiscriminately with ugly blocks of factories, the founders cooperated through voluntary contributions to purchase, restore, and hold the old houses as places of pilgrimage and study and the country tracts as nature reserves or recreation grounds for the community. The British Trust Has an American Godparent In 1895, Miss Octavia Hill, Sir Robert Hunter, and Canon Rawnsley organized in England an association with similar objects the National Trust for Places of Historic In terest or Natural Beauty. Delegates from this English association adopted substantially as their own the bylaws of the Massachusetts Trustees of Public Reservations. They in cluded also a provision by which the Massa chusetts association has the right to nominate a member of the Council of the National Trust. That member today is Charles Sumner Bird of East Walpole, Massachusetts. The need for taking steps to preserve Eng lish historic places is now obvious. Damage was done to important buildings in England by German aircraft even during the war of 1914-18. During the present war destruc tion has increased a thousandfold. Much of the most precious of England's heritage has been lost. Some thousands of churches and other ecclesiastical buildings have been destroyed or seriously damaged, among them cathedrals like St. Paul's in Lon- don, Coventry, and Canterbury, churches built by Sir Christopher Wren, and the round 12th century Temple Church of the Crusaders. Upon historic edifices in London such as the Middle Temple Hall, with its memories of Shakespeare, Queen Elizabeth, and Sir Walter Raleigh; the London Guildhall; Holland House; and Dr. Johnson's house, the merciless hand of war has fallen. The National Trust was founded long be fore there was any thought of war, before the bombing airplane had even been conceived. The enemy in those days was the spread of industrialism in great cities which encroached upon the countryside. England, it must be remembered, was industrialized long before the United States. For its size and popula tion it is far more extensively built over with factories and mills, and a much smaller pro portion of its people live by agriculture. Many people think of England as a pleasant land of country estates and green pastures. So it was in the 18th century, but during the Victorian era it became much more charac terized by coal mines, blast furnaces, and smoky cities. To make way for engineering plants, office buildings, and artisan dwellings, numerous ancient buildings and much beauti ful countryside were ruthlessly despoiled. The National Trust has made such progress in recent years that it has completely out grown its Massachusetts godparent and is now the largest organization of its kind in existence, owning more than 400 properties in all parts of England and Wales. Scotland has its own National Trust. Trust Properties Epitomize English History The Trust's numerous properties, rang ing from great castles and manor houses to small farms, inns, and rectories, present an epitome of English history from barbaric times to the present day. They begin, indeed, with prehistory-the Avebury and Stonehenge monuments-and pass through the Roman and Saxon eras to Norman, Plantagenet, and Tudor, Jacobean and Hanoverian, down to modern times. Scattered over England in the country and in cities, towns, and villages, Trust properties vary from the post office of a hamlet (page 429) to Knole (shortly to be acquired), one of the largest and most valuable castles.