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Our founders

Sir Robert Hunter with his daughter (centre), fellow National Trust founder Canon Hardwicke Rawnsley (far right) and a friend in the Lake District around 1900
Sir Robert Hunter with his daughter (centre), fellow National Trust founder Canon Hardwicke Rawnsley (far right) and friend in the Lake District around 1900 | © National Trust Images

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

Creating the National Trust

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.

Who were the founders?

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
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.More on Octavia Hill
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’.More on Canon Hardwicke Rawnsley
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.More on Sir Robert Hunter

The legacy of the National Trust founders

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.

Over 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.

The Three Founders of the National Trust book

The Three Founders of the National Trust book

Find out more about Octavia Hill, Robert Hunter and Hardwicke Rawnsley in our book.

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The history of the National Trust 

Discover the history of the National Trust, from its foundation, through key projects and initiatives, to its recent anniversary celebrations.

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About the National Trust today 

Discover more about our legacy, people and values as a conservation charity. We protect historic places and green spaces while opening them up for everyone, for ever.

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How we are run 

Discover how the National Trust is run, how our governance arrangements are underpinned by Acts of Parliament and how they are designed to support and challenge our staff.

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Our commitment to inclusion and diversity 

We're committed to meeting the needs and expectations of a diverse society. Find out what we're doing to create an inclusive, accessible and welcoming environment for our supporters, staff and volunteers.

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Our constitution 

The first National Trust Act passed in 1907. Successive Acts have since been introduced to ensure the National Trust continues to be well governed and remains true to its cause.

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Board of Trustees 

Discover who sits on the National Trust's Board of Trustees, what experience they bring to the role and how they work together to meet the Trust's purpose.

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About us 

Find out who’s who at the National Trust, read our strategy and learn about our history as a conservation charity, plus much more.