125 years of the National Trust in the East of England

2020 was the 125th anniversary of the National Trust and although our birthday year didn't turn out like we were expecting, we took the opportunity to look back at where it all began. Here are some of the key moments in our history of caring for special places, in the East of England.

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

1895: The birth of the National Trust 

The National Trust was founded on 12 January 1895 by Octavia Hill, Sir Robert Hunter and Hardwicke Rawnsley. Born in Wisbech, Cambridgeshire, Octavia was from the East of England. She sought to help the poor help themselves, she connected culture with reform and became convinced of the need for open spaces for the urban masses.

Picture of three common cranes wading in water on Burwell Fen

1899: Our first nature reserve 

We acquired our first nature reserve, with the purchase of two acres of land at Wicken Fen in 1899. Over the years, with your support, we’ve managed to acquire more land in this area of the Cambridgeshire fens and it’s now the most ‘species-rich area’ in the UK.

a mottled brown grey seal sitting on sea grass

1912: Our first stretch of coastline 

Although the first place to come into the National Trust’s care was five acres of cliff top in Wales, Blakeney Point in Norfolk was the first stretch of coastline that we acquired for its value as a coastal nature reserve. It’s now home to the largest grey seal colony in England.

The boardwalk snaking through the trees at Hatfield Forest, in the autumn

1920s: A landscape marred by the First World War

By the end of the First World War, almost one million British soldiers, sailors and airmen had been killed and around two million had been permanently disabled. This unimaginable human cost meant there were less people to work the land. The large landscape estates at Ashridge (1921), Hatfield Forest (1924) and Dunstable Downs (1928) all came into our care around this time.

Houghton Mill in the Spring

1930s: Trouble at t’mill

Technology began to take milling in a different direction. Cheaper grain could also be imported in greater quantities from overseas, to feed the rapidly expanding population that had resulted from the industrial revolution. This led us to take on Bourne Mill (1936), Houghton Mill (1939), Horsey Windpump (1948) and Flatford (1948). As well as places like Paycocke’s (1924) and Lavenham Guildhall (1951) that had once thrived for their connection with the wool trade.

Painting of Philip Kerr, 11th Marquess of Lothian (1882 - 1940)

1937: Lord Lothian and the Country House Act

The owner of Blickling Estate, Lord Lothian, forged a career between the two wars, as secretary to the Prime Minster and Ambassador to the USA. He was also the driving force behind the National Trust Act of 1937 and the creation of the Country Houses Scheme, which enabled the first large-scale transfer of mansion houses to the National Trust in lieu of death duties, preserving some of our most beautiful buildings for everyone to enjoy.

Front view of Anglesey Abbey

1940 – 1960s: Rescuing country houses

Many country houses were requisitioned by the military during the Second World War. Following this, rising income tax and death duties meant that owners now had less money to maintain their homes and staff were hard to come by. As a result, we entered an extended period of rescuing these houses including Blickling (1942), Peckover House (1943), Shaw’s Corner (1950), Oxburgh Hall (1952), Ickworth (1956), Melford Hall (1960), Anglesey Abbey (1966) and Felbrigg Hall (1969).

Heather in bloom on top of the cliffs with the sea below

1965: Launch of Enterprise Neptune

Our Neptune Campaign was launched in 1965 with the aim of acquiring unspoilt coastline which might be at risk. In the years that followed, you helped us secure several coastal sites including Brancaster Estate (1967), Dunwich Heath (1968), Ray Island (1970), Morston Quay (1973) and Northey Island (1978). Today we now care for over 114 miles of coast in the East of England.

Wimpole's Gothic Folly

1970s & 1980s: Safeguarding landscapes

The next places to be gifted into our care, helped safeguard some rather special national treasures. This included Wimpole Estate (1976) with its surviving Capability Brown landscape and Sheringham Park (1986) thought to be one of the best examples of designer, Humphry Repton’s work.

The pagodas on Orford Ness

1990s: Part of our nation’s story

The National Heritage Memorial Fund was set up in 1980 to save the most outstanding parts of the British national heritage, in memory of those who have given their lives for the UK. This fund in part helped secure the future of Orford Ness from the Ministry of Defence in 1993. Another significant site came into our care in 1998, Sutton Hoo is home to one of the greatest archaeological discoveries of all time.

the brown reeds are in the foreground against the blue sky in the back ground with blue water creeks meandering through

2000s: Preparing for rising sea levels

Within the last 20 years, you've helped us acquire more land at Dunwich Heath and an additional 30 acres at Salthouse on the Norfolk Coast, as we start to create space further inland for wildlife. This will enable nature to move, adjust and retreat as the coastline changes.

View of Oxburgh Hall from the historic parkland

Today: We're still adding to our story

Thanks to your support we acquired 129 acres of historic parkland surrounding Oxburgh Hall in 2017, which will be restored to create more habitats for wildlife. Then in 2018, with your help we acquired The Granary at Flatford, which was once owned by the family of painter, John Constable, who took his inspiration from East Anglia’s landscapes.