Our founders

In 2020 we are celebrating our 125th birthday. United by a common belief that nature, beauty and history are for everyone, our three founders, Octavia Hill, Robert Hunter and Hardwicke Rawnsely, set up the National Trust in 1895 so that natural and historic places could be protected for future generations.

By the end of the 19th century, rapid industrialisation was threatening to sweep away the country’s heritage and destroy its remaining natural landscape. Between them, our founders campaigned against this threat, raising awareness, amassing support and laying the foundations for an organisation to look after special places for everyone, for ever.

As individuals they were very different personalities and they all left their own unique mark on our fledgling organisation that can still be felt today.

Octavia Hill (after John Singer Sargent) by Reginald Grenville Eves, RA

Octavia Hill 

Octavia Hill was one of the greatest social reformers in British history. She understood the importance of access to nature for human wellbeing and dedicated her life to both improving urban housing and protecting green spaces.

Hardwicke Rawnsley, co-founder of the National Trust

Canon Hardwicke Rawnsley 

Hardwicke Rawnsley believed passionately in the importance of protecting the natural landscape from development. His energetic campaigning earned him the nickname of ‘Defender of the Lakes’.

A portrait of Robert Hunter (later Sir) as a young man taken in the mid 1860's. Robert Hunter (1844-1913) was a founder of the National Trust.

Sir Robert Hunter 

Solicitor Robert Hunter worked tirelessly for much of his life to preserve our right to access common land and to protect the country's historic buildings. His legal expertise turned the idea of the National Trust into reality.

Thanks to the vision and wisdom of our founders we’ve been able to grow and now look after more than 250,000 hectares of farmland, 780 miles of coastline and 500 historic places, gardens and nature reserves. 

125 years on, their mission is just as relevant today and thanks to the generous donations of our supporters and the hard work of our staff and volunteers we are continuing the work that our founders started and will continue to do so for everyone, for ever.