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OSS lantern slides – some initial data on land ownership

Here are some initial findings from summary data on the landownership of the sites represented in the Open Spaces Society lantern slides: at the Museum of English Rural Life. *

For more on the project and the slides, go to:


Dates: Many of these images were taken in the year that they were purchased on behalf of the public or the nation. I could only find this out once I researched the history of their acquisition. So these lantern slides are meant as much as a celebration of their acquisition and preservation as they are just recording the sites.

So for example, Norbury Park in Surrey was bought by Surrey County Council in 1931 (most likely as part of their ambition to establish a Green Belt). The pictures in the OSS collection are dated 1930.

Selsdon Woods in Surrey were purchased after a campaign by the National Trust in 1927. The images in the OSS are dated 1927:

selsdon woods 1927


NB I haven’t yet filtered the database to individual sites, so the counts are of percentage of total images, and e.g. there may be multiple images of the same site.

20% of the images are sites now owned by local councils or parish councils, or 23% if we include the streets. I need to do a bit more research on what percentage of the sites were under council ownership at the time that the photographs were taken, but it will be less than that.

14% of the images of sites are still in private ownership today.

8.5% of the images now are owned or managed by the National Trust.

The Church of England own 6.6% of the images depicted, though note this is skewed by the numbers of images of Canterbury Cathedral and the abbey at East Malling.

CL = City of London Corporation. Many of the metropolitan commons are included in the images, purchased or acquired after the 1893 Metropolitan Commons Act.

concentrations of landownership: this is obviously replicating the concentrations of the sites in the south East, and is skewed by the categorisation of ‘river’ for rivers. But it clearly shows the Corporation of London’s purchase of Surrey commons in the 1890s.

Concentrations of types of landownership:

The impact of the Commons Preservation Society (now OSS) and the wider movement to ‘save’ metropolitan commons by purchase is really evident in the map around London:

map of London showing council and conservator ownership
London, OSS images mapped by ownership

Chronology of acquisitions:

Chronology of acquisitions of the 294 images of sites that I can date as acquired by councils, National Trust or other public bodies:


Please note that it is very difficult, without comprehensive land registration and access to the Land Registry database, to establish the landownership of all the sites.

There are also some categories that I have used because I am still trying to work out the landownership. For example, I have just for now categorised all images of rivers as simply ‘river’, and streets as ‘street’. There are many generic images where I have not been able to establish location or landownership.

Note also that I have generally classified the landownership according to who owns the sites today (2021). There are several images where the site was private at the time of photographing, but may have been purchased by e.g. the local council, later in the 20th century.

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