Our history: 1884-1945

The National Trust was founded on 12 January 1895 by Octavia Hill, Sir Robert Hunter and Hardwicke Rawnsley. Over the last 120 years we’ve become one of the UK’s largest charities, caring for historic properties and areas of beautiful countryside. Take a look below to learn about some of the key moments in our past, and the people who have supported us.

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

1884: The idea of the National Trust is born 

The idea of the National Trust is born when Octavia Hill, one of our founders, is asked to help preserve Sayes Court garden in south east London.

Dinas Oleu in Barmouth, Gwynedd
Walking trail

1895: The National Trust is founded 

Within a few weeks of the National Trust being registered under the Companies Act, we are given our first place: five acres of cliff top at Dinas Oleu in Wales.

Front of Alfriston clergy house

1896: First building bought  

We buy Alfriston Clergy House in Sussex for £10 (about £600 in today's money).

View across the fens at Wicken Fen

1899: Our first nature reserve 

We acquire our first nature reserve with the purchase of two acres of Wicken Fen, near Cambridge.

1900: We are given Kanturk Castle

Our commitment to great buildings is confirmed with the gift of Kanturk Castle, in what was to become the Republic of Ireland. Kanturk now belongs to An Taisce: The National Trust for Ireland.

The Memorial Stone in Brandelhow Park, commemorating the first National Trust acquisition in the Lake District
Walking trail

1902: Appeal launched to buy Brandelhow 

Nationwide campaign launches to raise funds for the purchase of Brandelhow on Derwentwater. Many contribute to the appeal including the daughter of Queen Victoria, Princess Louise, and factory workers in the Midlands.

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.

1907: The National Trust Act 

The National Trust Act of 1907 was drafted by Sir Robert Hunter, one of our co-founders, to give the Trust the status of a statutory corporation. 1907 was also the year we acquired Barrington Court, a sixteenth-century country house in Somerset.

Blakeney Point in the Autumn sunlight showing lots of golden reds and browns

1912: Blakeney Point 

Blakeney Point in Norfolk is acquired for its value as a coastal nature reserve. It's a great place to spot wildlife, including terns and seals.

Teenagers playing in the river at Wasdale, Cumbria with Great Gable in the background looming over the scene.

1923: We are given Great Gable 

Great Gable, a peak in the Lake District, is presented to us by the Fell and Rock Climbing Club as a memorial to members who had been killed in the Great War.

In the same year, historian GM Trevelyan uses his friendship with the Prime Minister, Stanley Baldwin, and with the author John Buchan, to gain support and boost falling membership numbers.

Reading glasses on an old newspaper in the Library at Cragside, Northumberland.

1925: The press support our cause 

Under the chairmanship of critic and journalist John Bailey, we receive more sympathetic coverage from the press than at any time in our history, before or since. On 25 October a letter in The Times, appealing for funds for Ashridge in Hertfordshire, is signed by Stanley Baldwin, Ramsay MacDonald and Herbert Asquith.

A view of the stone circle at Stonehenge

1927: Farmland around Stonehenge is bought 

Over 1,400 acres of farmland around Stonehenge is bought after a national appeal.

Beatrix Potter at Keswick show

1929: Beatrix Potter lends her support  

Beatrix Potter uses the income from her children's books to support our work in the Lake District. As a result, Monk Coniston Estate, near Coniston Water, is acquired.

1931: The National Trust for Scotland is established

The National Trust for Scotland has similar statutory powers, but with an entirely independent constitution.

West Wycombe high street in Buckinghamshire

1934: West Wycombe 

West Wycombe becomes the first village under our protection

Philip Kerr, 11th Marquess of Lothian, playing golf

1937: The National Trust Act 

The Marquis of Lothian proposes that we should be able to accept the gift of country houses, with endowments in land or capital, which would be free of tax. These new powers are provided in the National Trust Act of 1937.

Exterior view of Quarry Bank Mill

1939: We are given Quarry Bank Mill 

Following the gift of Quarry Bank Mill and Styal Estate in Cheshire, we get involved with sites of major importance for their industrial archaeology.

In the same year, Lord Lothian bequeaths us his Jacobean house, Blickling, in Norfolk.

1945: Our 50th Birthday

Our 50th year and we own 112,000 acres of land and 93 historic buildings and have 7,850 members.