By Ben Cowell, Regional Director, East of England
100 years ago, on 6th November 1913, Sir Robert Hunter died of toxaemia in Haslemere, Surrey at the age of 69. Tragically his death came just a few months after his retirement from the General Post Office, where he had been Solicitor since 1882.
Hunter was one of the three founders of the National Trust. Before joining the GPO he had been solicitor to the Commons Preservation Society, the forerunner of the Open Spaces Society. While the other founders of the National Trust – Octavia Hill and Hardwicke Rawnsley – were well known for their work in saving open spaces, Hunter had a much lower profile, then as now.
Yet in many ways this is a travesty of history. Hunter’s legal genius played a hugely important role in the battle for many commons and open spaces in the decades before the National Trust was founded, from Hampstead Heath to Epping Forest. The idea of a National Trust to save land and buildings for the nation emerged from many of these struggles and Hunter could lay claim to being the original inspiration for the concept. He devised the name ‘National Trust’ and served as the organisation’s first Chairman from 1895 until his death 100 years ago.
But Hunter was buried in an unmarked grave and his birthplace in Addington Square, SouthLondon, continues to lack an official Blue Plaque. The National Trust and the Open Spaces Society are using the centenary of Hunter’s death to bring his name to public attention once again and to celebrate his many achievements on behalf of the nation.
A number of events are taking place this week to mark the centenary of Sir Robert Hunter’s life, including a new biography by Ben Cowell, a lecture by Dame Helen Ghosh, Director General of the National Trust, and a dramatisation of Sir Robert’s life.