The Open Spaces Society collection at the Museum of English Rural Life
The lockdowns during the 2020-1 pandemic have highlighted the importance of access to open spaces for health and recreation. People’s daily walks or runs in their local areas gave them a new appreciation for even the smallest or seemingly mundane of sites, for their environment, fresh air and tranquillity. The historic role of the Open Spaces Society in campaigning for the preservation of the countryside for all since 1865 is thus even more relevant today.
In 2020-21 I was the Open Spaces Society Fellow at the Museum of English Rural Life, exploring and publicising the archives of the society. I aimed to uncover the locations of thousands of images taken in the first few decades of the 20th century as part of their campaigns to preserve open space for all.
location on the 1914 OS 6 inch to the mile map:
The first formal national society for commons preservation was formed in 1865, during a period when local campaigns were afoot to save the last few commons on the edges of the capital and other industrial cities from urban development and enclosure. In 1899 existing preservation societies merged under the title Commons Open Spaces and Footpath Preservation Society, which became the Open Spaces Society in the 1980s. The society promoted important pieces of legislation, including the Commons Acts of 1876 and 1899. Today, its principal task is advising local authorities, Commons committees, voluntary bodies, and the general public on the appropriation of commons and other open spaces. It also scrutinises applications that affect public rights of way.