The Enduring Relevance of Octavia Hill

Octavia Hill died one hundred years ago this year, yet her legacy continues to go from strength to strength. A tireless social reformer and co-founder of the National Trust, her influence can be felt in the streets of Marylebone and Southwark in the housing she managed, just as on Hampstead Heath and in the Lake District it can be felt in the open spaces she protected. Her legacy is also clear in the ideas, concepts and disciplines that she espoused, which have proved as enduring as the organisations she founded.

On the centenary of her death, society — big, broken or otherwise — is on the lips of almost every politician or commentator. After the riots that sprawled across towns and cities last year, the focus quickly shifted to underlying social problems: with members of the cabinet lamenting broken families, declining respect and a lack of responsibility. Such complaints would have been familiar to Octavia Hill. Housing, work, families, morality, childhood, respect, responsibility and aspiration were all concerns at the centre of her campaigns and worldview.

This collection examines Octavia Hill’s work as a starting point for thinking afresh about how to address the challenges facing society today. It brings together a diverse range of contributors: experts on heritage sit alongside specialists in housing, and there are essays on patriotism, nature, aesthetics, volunteering, craft and more. The lasting lesson is to think anew: to see the links that exist but are buried and the connections that have never been made.