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: https://images.oss.org.uk/ at the Museum of English Rural Life. *

For more on the project and the slides, go to: https://historyofpublicspace.uk/my-oss-fellowship-at-merl-2021/exhibition-of-open-spaces-society-lantern-slides-held-at-the-merl/


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. https://images.oss.org.uk/photos/norbury-park-surrey-1930/

Selsdon Woods in Surrey were purchased after a campaign by the National Trust in 1927. The images in the OSS are dated 1927: https://images.oss.org.uk/photos/selsdon-wood-surrey-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.

legislative definitions on what is and isn’t a public space have returned

Adam Wagner does his brilliant work again summarising the new covid emergency regulations on where masks have to be worn.

The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Wearing of Face Coverings) (England) Regulations 2021, passed 29 November 2021

It’s like deja vu again, but about masks rather than simply opening. The spatial ordering of the legislation yet again is fascinating. What is or is not a public space.


stream of thoughts about animal pounds and car pounds

Architecture and Protest podcast by the Society of Architectural Historians GB

I’m talking on this new episode of the Society of Architectural Historians of Great Britain, ‘Architecture and Protest’. I’m discussing Chartists’ use of spaces and buildings for protest and political meetings:



architectural history podcast links

Adam Elliott-Cooper is a researcher based at the University of Greenwich, who works on histories of racism and policing in Britain. His first monograph, Black Resistance to British Policing, was published by Manchester University Press in May 2021. He is also co-author of Empire’s Endgame: Racism and the British State (Pluto Press, 2021).

Hannah Awcock is a researcher based at the University of Edinburgh who is interested in the social, cultural, and historical geographies of resistance, publishing on subjects from the 1780 Gordon Riots to climate protests at COP26.

Morgan Trowland is a Civil Engineer and member of the protest group Extinction Rebellion.

Your hosts were Matthew Lloyd Roberts and Dr Jessica Kelly, and this project was devised with Neal Shasore

Open Spaces Society fellowship at the MERL – penultimate update

My Open Spaces Society fellowship has come to its formal end, but I’m still working on some of the lines of research raised by the collection.

southampton bargate

We’re also still hoping to get the planned online exhibition of selected lantern slides up and running. Delays because of lockdown meant that there is a backlog of exciting projects and exhibitions, so we’ll wait!

Outputs of the project:

Next steps:

I’m updating the database of lantern slides with landownership details. Who owned and owns the sites shown in the slides? When were they acquired by bodies like the National Trust or the City of London commons? What percentage of the sites are privately owned?

box hill 1936
Surrey XXV SE 1936 Box Hill and West Humble

List of archives that can be linked to the OSS collection at the MERL:

Surrey History Centre 

1621 – Sir Robert Hunter papers – e.g. box 3/14, Coulsdon Commons Preservation Committee, 1873

Box 9/2 – Commons Preservation literature

Parliament Archives 

FCP – footpaths and commons preservation society papers

E.g. FCP 2/382-286 – Surrey – Coulsdon and Banstead 1930-3

FCP 1/51 – CPS files on Limpsfield Common, Surrey

> to link with the MERL, SR OSS/C07/8 – Banstead Woods, 1877 R Number 5 High Court Chancery

SR OSS/C07/9/3/4 – OSS Mitcham Common 1885 case. 

FCP 2/809-814 – Annual reports and journals of the CFPS, 1927-40 – the lantern slides may have been used to illustrate talks by Humphrey Baker, Lawrence Chubb and Sir Robert Hunter.

‘The Right of Recreation’, Annual Report, v, 1937, 176-77

‘Commons, what they are and how they are protected’, Annual Report, iii, 1935

London Metropolitan Archives

CL/PK/1/131 – Surrey County Council and London Green Belt Scheme – e.g. Sanderstead and King’s Wood scheme, 1936-7

Linked selected secondary sources:

Marco Amati and Makato Yokohari, ‘The establishment of the London green belt’, Journal of Planning History, 6: 4 (2007), 311-37, has a section on the Surrey proposals, 1937

Paul Readman, Storied Ground: Landscape and the Shaping of English National Identity (2018)

Francesca Church, ‘Amenity as educator: Geographies of education, citizenship, and the CPRE in 1930s England’, Geographical Journal, 185: 3 (2018), 258-67. 

David Matless, Landscape and Englishness (1998)

Earlier histories of the CPS, prior to the 20th century:

Elizabeth Baigent, ‘God’s earth will be sacred’: Religion, Theology, and the Open Space Movement in Victorian England’, Rural History, 22: 1 (2011), 31-58

Jeremy Burchardt, Paradise Lost:  Rural Idyll and Social Change Since 1800 (2002)

Ben Cowell on the Berkhamstead Common dispute of 1866 – e.g. ‘The Commons Preservation Society and the Campaign for Berkhamsted Common, 1866–70’, Rural History, 13: 2 (2002)

obstruction and protest

Since the 1835 Highways Act and the implementation of the 19th century police, police have sought to control or disperse protest by classifying stationary groups of people as obstructing the right of free passage along the highway.

gov.uk government takes out further injunction against climate activists

In reaction to the Insulate Britain tactic of obstruction, the government has in October 2021 taken out a High Court injunction against the protestors, though it is specific to particular motorways and A-roads:



Verges are important as they are technically classed as part of the highway, and therefore councils and police have historically tried to protect right of free passage along them as well, classing any encampments on verges or roundabouts as obstruction.

Further reading on ‘obstruction’ and ‘nuisance’ in 19th century policing:

David Churchill,  Crime Control and Everyday Life in the Victorian City: the Police and the Public (Oxford, 2017);

Christopher Hamlin, ‘Nuisances and Community in Mid Victorian England: the Attractions of Inspection’. Social History, 38: 3 (2013), 346-79.