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

Open Spaces Society lantern slides project update 5

southern england map

I’ve now categorised and geo-located the majority of the c.1000 lantern slides in the Open Spaces Society collection at MERL.

NB not all the slides are represented on this map because some can’t be geo-located

Here are some statistics:

Some headlines:

  • Urban commons and rivers are the two most common types of landscape represented in the images, at 137 ( 13.8%) and 135 (13.6%) of the total.
  • Downland 65 (6.5%) and buildings 61 (6.1%) were the next common type.
  • Surrey was by far the most common county location – 255 images (30%)
  • London, Buckinghamshire and Kent were the next common counties.

What’s surprised me:

  1. Castles: There is a large proportion of pictures of castles and other ancient ruins/old buildings among the slides. As a society mainly concerned with footpaths and open spaces, one would expect that buildings wouldn’t be a main focus of their campaigns. I would have thought they would have left campaigning about ancient buildings to the National Trust and the Society for the Preservation of Ancient Buildings (founded by William Morris in 1877).
  2. Churches: Ditto, the same with churches. There are many pictures of churches, abbeys and cathedrals. Some of the small churches reflect the general theme of an idyllic unchanging village life, but there are also many images of statues and monuments in cathedral interiors.
  3. Geographies: The focus on the south east of England is not surprising, given the Commons Open Spaces and Footpath Preservation Society’s origins, but I was surprised that there were very few photos of the Lake District. There are none of Dartmoor. There are only a few in the Peak District. The Midlands is very sparsely represented.

Open Spaces Society Fellowship update 4: themes

map of surrey

The Open Spaces Society have now uploaded their lantern slides images to their website: http://images.oss.org.uk/

You can purchase hi-resolution copies of the images from their website.

I’m still working my way through them all, classifying them and geo-locating them. The images are collated in themes, presumably in different boxes that were taken along to illustrate different talks and campaigns.

There is a whole ‘box’ for example on the Pilgrim’s Way in Hampshire.

Findings

I will be doing the stats on which places are represented in the collection as soon as I’ve finished geo-locating everything, but it seems that the 1000 or so slides focus mainly on southern England, and are often records of places just after they had been preserved or bought by the National Trust and other bodies for the benefit of the public – e.g. Kenwood and Hampstead Heath figure highly. There are hardly any slides from northern England or Wales. The focus is also on large areas, and long-distance footpaths.

These are the main themes I am going to explore:

a) rivers and waterways – riparian access issues

There is a whole section of images of rivers and waterways, in connection with various campaigns to open up towpaths and access to embankments etc. Riparian access is still an issue today. 

google street view, embankment
people looking at the Thames embankment
F18. River Thames.

b) Woods and forests

There are many slides showing woods, and particularly individual trees and broad-leaved deciduous. This derives from contemporary concerns about the impact of new plantations of conifers and sylviculture, both by 19th century estates and by the 1919 Forestry Commission. 

One could refer to the historic symbolism and uses of the ‘old oaks’ (for perambulations, boundaries, etc)

Burnham Beeches is a large section of the collection, and I have been in contact with a conservator from the City of London about the trees. 

Burnham beeches
E10. Burnham Beeches.

The impact of the 1987 great storm on the trees that are pictured in the collection would be an interesting side-project. 

c) trespass and access campaigns

There is one ‘box’ of lantern slides showing a of the OSS’s campaigns. These include a few images like this:  

demonstration sunnyside Bradford 1930
J51 demonstration, Sunnyside, Bradford, 1930

I’ll write a future blog post about the Sunnyside Bradford trespass campaign in 1930.

There is another slide showing the society removing obstructions at Ribchester, Lancashire, 1930, but very little about this, so this is something I will look into more. If anyone has any information about this, let me know.

And more individual actions such as ‘removing an obstruction, Otterburn, Northumberland, February 1936’. Also actions against farmers ploughing up of footpaths, e.g. between Banstead and Woodmansterne, Surrey.

 map of Banstead, 1914
Ordnance Survey, 6 inch to mile, Surrey, 1914: https://maps.nls.uk/view/101436919

d) Rural modernism and infrastructure

The changing landscape of roads, petrol stations, telegraph poles and power lines. 

Ewell was the first public petrol station: http://mk1-forum.net/viewtopic.php?f=5&t=3602&start=320 

petrol station, Surrey
B105, Ewell, Surrey

My Rural Modernism network has been working on these themes, so there is much material on the impact of energy and transport infrastructure on landscapes, and the role of preservationist campaigns in e.g. public enquiries. 

Militarisation and requisitioning of landscapes during and after World War I is also a related theme. See the excellent studies by Marianna Dudley on this topic for the post WWII period.