A vibrant history of English landscape preservation over the last 150 years, told through the lives of four remarkable women
In Britain today, a mosaic of regulations protects the natural environment and guarantees public access to green spaces. But this was not always so. Over the last 150 years, activists have campaigned tirelessly for the right to roam through the countryside and the vital importance of preserving Britain’s natural beauty.
Matthew Kelly traces the history of landscape preservation through the lives of four remarkable women: Octavia Hill, Beatrix Potter, Pauline Dower, and Sylvia Sayer. From the commons of London to the Lake District, Northumberland, and Dartmoor, these women protected the English landscape at a crucial period through a mixture of environmental activism, networking, and sheer determination.
They grappled with the challenges that urbanization and industrial modernity posed to human well-being as well as the natural environment. By tirelessly seeking to reconcile the needs of particular places to the broader public interest they helped reimagine the purpose of the English countryside for the democratic age.
Matthew Kelly is professor of modern history at Northumbria University. He is the author of Finding Poland: From Tavistock to Hurzdowa and Back Again and Quartz and Feldspar: Dartmoor—A British Landscape in Modern Times.
“As Kelly demonstrates, the achievements of these four preservationists deserve to be remembered and indeed celebrated. . . . Kelly’s book is rich with insights into their motivations. . . . As well as exploring their lives and activism, Kelly guides the reader through the landscapes that they fought to preserve.”—PD Smith, The Guardian
“Matthew Kelly celebrates four women whose work created the organisations and attitudes to conservation we take for granted today. . . . I am proud to have worked in their shadows and grateful to Prof Kelly for telling their stories.”—Fiona Reynolds, Country Life
“An essential and delightful read. . . . With an engaging, accessible, page-turning style, Matthew Kelly reveals an innate awareness of his reader as he illuminates the achievements of these four extraordinary women.”—Katharine Norbury, BBC Countryfile
“One thing that Covid lockdown made us appreciate was the importance of being outdoors. . . . How timely, then, that Matthew Kelly has written an account of four redoubtable rural activists. . . . According to Kelly’s thorough examination of these women’s efforts, the two least known appear to be the ones who fought their corner hardest.”—Camilla Swift, Spectator
“[A] deeply researched examination of the battles fought to protect the landscape.”—Will Smith, Cumbria Life
“An inspiring look at connections between people, place and period.”—BBC History Magazine
“A welcome celebration of environmental heroes who deserve to be better known.”—BBC History Revealed
“Kelly’s book dives deeply and effectively into the archives to describe this band of high-born troublemakers. . . . Many millions enjoy the fruit of their campaigning every year.”—Boyd Tonkin, Times Literary Supplement
“[an] intriguing group biography ... Kelly’s prose draws vitality from his subjects’ conviction that in alienating ourselves from nature, we curb our own happiness.” —Hephzibah Anderson, The Observer
“Kelly’s book is rich with insights… As well as exploring their lives and activism, Kelly guides the reader through the landscapes that they fought to preserve.”—Oldie
“At last, the full and proper place of these women in the narrative of English conservation is established. And how much we can learn from them! As Kelly describes in his meticulously researched book, revealing intricate detail and fresh insight with every page, each was driven by a mix of personal passion, moral fervour and a sharp and often piercing intellect. We owe them so much. And now, thanks to Matthew Kelly, their story is told.”—Dame Fiona Reynolds, former director general of the National Trust
“The National Trust owes a debt particularly to Octavia Hill and Beatrix Potter, and the work we do today stands on the shoulders of all that they made possible. What unites all four women’s stories is the firm belief in the benefits of nature for people. That’s a mission with enduring relevance, and it drives me now just as it drove Octavia in the 19th century.”—Hilary McGrady, director general of the National Trust
“A fascinating account of four courageous women who, often against the odds, helped to save the countryside and our access to it. This important book describes their motivations, influence, frustrations, and victories—and ensures that they are not forgotten.”—Kate Ashbrook, general secretary of the Open Spaces Society
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