Open Spaces Society fellowship at MERL update 6

I’m gathering together the main themes of the lantern slides in the OSS collection for the forthcoming exhibition.

The boxes are organised by type of landscape, but this also lends to geographical regions too:

  • Boxes A and B – mix of North Downs, especially Box Hill and Leith Hill, and Surrey commons
  • Box C – metropolitan parks and commons, especially Brockwell Park and Peckham Rye
  • Box D – parks and commons in London continued, mainly commons, especially Wimbledon and Streatham commons and Kenwood/Hampstead
  • Box E – Burnham Beeches, Hampstead Heath and Kenwood in bulk, mostly of trees
  • Box F – Rivers, predominantly the Thames, mainly Berkshire, some of the river Avon, Wye, Lea, Dee and then individual pictures of other rivers
  • Box G – more Hampstead Heath and Wimbledon Common
  • Box H – Pilgrim’s Way through Hampshire and Kent, including many of Canterbury Cathedral; mostly street scenes and buildings
  • Box I – Ancient Forests – mainly New Forest and Epping Forest, also Ashdown, Hainault, Savernake and Sherwood
  • Box J – Examples of obstructions, stiles, fences, signposts, and a few examples of the work of the CFPS in removing obstructions and mass trespass
  • Box K – random pictures, from old paintings to bridges – not sure there is a theme
  • Box L – county landscapes from B to Y – examples of type of landscape for each county, though not all counties are represented
  • Box M – stock types of landscape, village scenes and nature, including some that look posed by actors? Several posed at Castle Combe, Wiltshire and St Mary’s abbey, East Malling, Kent.  Also portraits of the leading figures in the preservation movement, including Octavia Hill and Sir Robert Hunter. 

Many of the Surrey commons images are of sites that had been preserved, and I suspect the purpose of the slides were to illustrate talks celebrating the work of the Commons and Footpaths Preservation society in their campaigns, showing their main successes. There are many in the ownership or conservatorship of the National Trust or the City of London corporation commons.

hampstead heath sign

Themes:

These are some of the main themes emerging:

  1. riparian access to the Thames
  2. a changing landscape and the intrusion of the modern
  3. ancient woods and forests
  4. downlands
  5. the materiality of obstruction

Linked archives:

I’m also compiling a list of archives in other repositories related to the OSS collection at MERL. Here are some of the most relevant so far – if you know of any others for the period 1900-40, do let me know.

Surrey History Centre:

1621 – Sir Robert Hunter, National Trust solicitor and chair of the CFPS, papers (link)

Parliamentary Archives:

FCP – the main collection of the Commons Open Spaces and Footpaths Preservation Society, forests and commons papers (link)

for example FCP 2/382-386 – Surrey commons – Coulsdon and Banstead, 1930-3

London Metropolitan Archives:

CLA/077/B – Epping Forest conservators papers

CL/PK/1/131 – LCC Green Belt scheme – Surrey, 1936-7

I am also reading this book, which has a chapter on the Commons Open Spaces and Footpaths Preservation Society and the National Trust:

Desmond Fitz-Gibbon, Marketable Values: Inventing the property market in modern Britain (Chicago University Press, 2018): https://press.uchicago.edu/ucp/books/book/chicago/M/bo28907929.html

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