East Surrey Walkers News – May 2021

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East Surrey Walkers (ESW)East Surrey Walkers (ESW) News & Article

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Our programme of walks recommenced on 1st May. The current programme covers the period until the end of June. Please remember at present it’s necessary to book on walks booking opens from a week in advance of the walk date.

Walk leaders are currently preparing the next walks programme for the period July – September. Our walks cater for all ranging from ambles to strenuous.

Please visit our web site for details of current walks and how to book. Please keep a look out for the new programme which should be published in late June.

Walking is not only a means to fitness and well being on occasions it’s a source of knowledge and education. Many of our members hold membership of the National Trust (NT). Several of our walks start or pass through Crockham Hill. On one such walk I became aware that one of the founders of the NT was a lady named Octavia Hill and that she is buried in Crockham Hill Church yard.

Intrigued I decided to do a little research and quickly discovered what a remarkable lady Octavia   was. I hope you may enjoy this brief insight into Octavia’s life.

Octavia was born on 3rd December 1838 in Wisbech, Cambridgeshire. Her father, James, was a corn merchant. Twice widowed he made a third marriage to Caroline Southwood Smith. Octavia’s parents were socially aware and progressive people.

In 1840 James Hill’s business failed he became depressed never fully recovered and deserted his family. Caroline therefore took work as a manager / bookkeeper for the Ladies Co operative Guild and moved the family to London.  As she grew up Octavia assisted her Mother, Her social awareness grew and she became appalled by the levels of poverty in the city.  By the age of 14 as well as helping her mother she was supervising children working as toy makers in the famous Ragged School (the children were paid by the piece).

By the age of 17 she was tutoring, was the secretary of the Working Men’s College and continued her work with the Ragged School. At about this time she came to the attention of John Ruskin he recognised her talent as an artist and trained her as a copyist.  Octavia commenced work on a daily basis attending either the National Gallery or Dulwich Gallery to copy paintings. She continued with her other work. The long hours eventually took its toll leading her to collapse with exhaustion. A pattern of such collapses continued throughout her life.

Octavia began to develop a scheme to improve housing for the poor. Ruskin was impressed and invested in the scheme. This allowed Octavia to buy neglected and decaying properties. They were extended, refurbished and maintained for the poor. The tenants paid rent and assisted with work on the premises.

Octavia extended her scheme using some of the returns to develop outdoor facilities, such as playgrounds. Enterprisingly she worked hard to publicise her scheme this resulted in new backers allowing her to expand the number of premises.  The scheme was also adopted and run by other groups. Octavia Housing continues to provide homes in inner city areas of London.

Her interests began to extend to outdoor facilities campaigning for the opening of public space including accessing common land and the reworking of land into parks and open space. She joined the committee of The Common Preservation Society (CPS). Through this organisation she met Robert Hunter and ultimately Canon Harwick Rawnsley of the Lake District Defence Association a group campaigning to prevent land owners from closing rights of way in that area. The trio commenced campaigning together.

Octavia identified that holding trusts would provide a useful tool to protect open space and suggested forming an organisation to manage lands. Hunter coined the title National Trust and thus in 1894 The NT was formed and was registered in 1895.

Why is Octavia buried in Crockham Hill? Unmarried and having earlier in her life suffered a broken engagement her family retained a companion for her. Octavia’s bouts of exhaustion necessitated recovery periods away from London. Accompanied by her companion they made retreats to Larksfield Cottage which Octavia had built in Crockham Hill.

Octavia died in 1912 and was buried in the peaceful Crockham Hill Church yard.  

Stephen Hanks
(ESW Publicity Officer)

WebmasterEast Surrey Walkers News – May 2021