Sir Robert Hunter in Surrey
Sir Robert Hunter, 1844-1913
Co-founder of the National Trust and Haslemere resident
Sir Robert Hunter, a co-founder of the National Trust and one of Haslemere’s most eminent former residents, lived in Three Gates Lane for 32 years. He was solicitor to the Post Office from 1882, which earned him a knighthood, and only retired early in 1913, a few months before his death on 6th November.
When the National Trust was established in 1895, Sir Robert, who had become expert in defending common land from developers as lawyer to the Commons Preservation Society from 1867-1882, was asked to draw up its constitution and was appointed its first Chairman.
In its early years, the National Trust acquired only modest holdings, but in 1905 a huge opportunity came up at Hindhead. Whitaker Wright, a wealthy financier, owned the Witley Park estate. His dubious financial practices led him to be charged with fraud for which he was found guilty at the Old Bailey in January 1905. Unable to face a jail sentence, he took a cyanide capsule and died in the strong room below the court.
Witley Park was auctioned in December 1905 and its 750 acres of commons at Hindhead and the Devil’s Punch Bowl offered separately. With a good railway link to London, this land was prime for development. Sir Robert, recognising this threat, convened a ‘Haslemere’ Preservation Society which raised enough money to secure the commons. The Society gave the land to the National Trust in March 1906 and Sir Robert set up a committee, the Hindhead Commons Committee, to manage it. He was chairman and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle served as Honorary Fire Captain.
The size and location of the Hindhead acquisition prompted Sir Robert to decide that the National Trust should be protected from pressure to part with its property. He drafted an Act of Parliament to enshrine in law that it must hold its assets in perpetuity. The National Trust Act was passed in 1907 and remains on the statute book.
Such was the success of Sir Robert’s stewardship, that soon other commons were acquired, most notably Ludshott Common in 1908, Marley Common in 1911 and Reigate Hill in 1913. The Hindhead Commons Committee volunteers continued to manage the land until 1993. Today’s version of this committee is known as the Black Down & Hindhead Supporters.
With thanks to Sarah Bain for writing this article on Sir Robert Hunter on the occasion of his centenary. Sarah Bain is Chairman of the Black Down & Hindhead Supporters of the National Trust.