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The history of the National Trust

The house and garden at Smallhythe Place showing flowers in bloom in June
The house and garden at Smallhythe Place | © National Trust Images/James Dobson

The National Trust has been caring for special places in the UK for more than 125 years. During that time, we have sought to preserve the nation's precious heritage through a wide range of projects, initiatives and programmes. On this page, we look back at all the important milestones in our history, from our foundation right up to our recent anniversary celebrations.

About the National Trust

The founders of the National Trust believed that everyone needs nature, beauty and history, so they set up the Trust to look after the nation’s coastline, historic sites, countryside and green spaces.

With 5.37 million members, 10,000 staff and thousands of volunteers, the National Trust is now the biggest conservation charity in Europe, caring for more than 250,000 hectares of farmland, more than 780 miles of coastline, and more than 500 historic properties, gardens and nature reserves, for everyone, for ever.

Take a look below to learn about some of the key moments in the National Trust’s history.

The history of the National Trust: timeline


Foundation and firsts


The idea of the National Trust is born  

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


The National Trust is founded   

Within a few weeks of the National Trust being registered under the Companies Act, it is given its first place: five acres of clifftop at Dinas Oleu in Wales. 


First building bought    

The National Trust purchases Alfriston Clergy House in East Sussex for £10.


First nature reserve   

The Trust acquires its first nature reserve with the purchase of two acres of Wicken Fen, near Cambridge. 

Alfriston Clergy House, East Sussex
Alfriston Clergy House | © National Trust Images/John Millar

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