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  • English Women and the

    Late-Nineteenth Century

    Open Space Movement

    Robyn M. Curtis

    August 2016

    A thesis submitted for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy at the

    Australian National University

  • Thesis Certification

    I declare that this thesis, submitted in fulfilment of the requirements of the award of

    Doctor of Philosophy, in the School of History at the Australian National University,

    is wholly my own original work unless otherwise referenced or acknowledged and has

    not been submitted for qualifications at any other academic institution.

    Robyn M. Curtis Date

    …………………… …………………

  • Abstract

    During the second half of the nineteenth century, England became the most

    industrialised and urbanised nation on earth. An expanding population and growing

    manufacturing drove development on any available space. Yet this same period saw

    the origins of a movement that would lead to the preservation and creation of green

    open spaces across the country. Beginning in 1865, social reforming groups sought to

    stop the sale and development of open spaces near metropolitan centres. Over the

    next thirty years, new national organisations worked to protect and develop a variety

    of open spaces around the country. In the process, participants challenged traditional

    land ownership, class obligations and gender roles.

    There has been very little scholarship examining the work of the open space

    organisations; nor has there been any previous analysis of the specific membership

    demographics of these important groups. This thesis documents and examines the

    four organisations that formed the heart of the open space movement (the Commons

    Preservation Society, the Kyrle Society, the Metropolitan Public Gardens Association

    and the National Trust). It demonstrates connections between philanthropy, gender

    and space that have not been explored previously. The Parliamentary Archives,

    London Metropolitan Archives, Guildhall Library Archives and the archives of the

    National Trust provided a wealth of material, including minutes, publications,

    newspaper cuttings and personal letters.

    My thesis focuses particularly on the many women activists who contributed to the

    achievements and philosophy of the open space movement. Unusually, women

    undertook significant public roles in the movement. Their participation engendered

    personal, professional and political advancement for their sex. My analysis illuminates

    the numerous motivations behind Victorian philanthropy and expands the picture of

    Victorian society. Further, it analyses the variety of motivations that prompted the

    movement’s ethos, as well as exploring the range of language used by supporters in

    their descriptions of the ‘natural’ world. This research highlights a significant,

    gendered turning point in the appreciation of conservation, preservation and the

    importance of open spaces in England.

  • Contents

    Acknowledgments i

    List of Abbreviations iv

    List of Illustrations v

    Introduction 1

    I. Victorian Protectors of Open Space 27

    II. Urban Gardens and Cultural Landscapes 61

    III. Family Ties and Social Networks 99

    IV. Nature’s Philanthropists – Members, Movers and Motivators 143

    V. Green Heroines: Gender, Philanthropy and Space 181

    VI. The Voice of Nature 217

    Conclusion 249

    Appendix A: List of members at the first MPGA meeting 265

    Appendix B: List of Members of Parliament in the MPGA 266

    Appendix C: MPGA Gardens completed in the first five years 271

    Appendix D: MPGA percentage of women members 273

    Bibliography 275

  • i


    Both as a scholar and as a person my journey over the past four years has only been

    made possible by the support, encouragement and assistance of some incredible

    people. Firstly, I cannot begin to express the depth of my respect and admiration for

    my supervisor, Professor Angela Woollacott; an inspirational academic, generous

    supervisor and supportive colleague on so many levels. She has never failed to imbue

    me with a sense of confidence in my own abilities and to stimulate me to push myself

    to achieve – thank you. I was also incredibly fortunate in having two wonderful

    academics to complete my advisory panel. Professor Pat Jalland, whose knowledge of

    the nineteenth century is phenomenal, has insured I will never lose my love for this

    period. I am honoured to have been able to spend so much time discussing my work

    with such a remarkable scholar. Professor Tom Griffiths has been in equal measure

    thought-provoking, reassuring and kind. I have deeply appreciated his willingness to

    share his time and expertise.

    Alongside this official team have been numerous scholars both in Australia and further

    afield. Their generosity has enriched my work beyond measure. Those who have

    provided suggestions, encouraging words and valuable feedback include, but is not

    limited to, my unofficial fourth panel member, Carroll Pursell, as well as Carolyn

    Strange, Kynan Gentry, Barry Higman, Libby Robin, Karen Downing, Rebecca Jones,

    John Knott, Greg Barton, Larry Peskin, Andrew May, Peter Thorsheim, Philippa

    Levine, Tony Taylor, Jim Capshew, Mike Grossberg, Frederic Lieber, Frank Zelko,

    Heather Goodall and the historians of the Centre for Environmental History. I am

    immensely grateful for their interest and kindness. The administrative team at the

  • ii

    Australian National University, including Karen Smith and Stella Armstrong, were

    saint-like in their patience and support.

    I’d also like to thank the PhD cohort I was fortunate enough to be a part of. Fellow

    students both past and present have my warmest appreciation. Their generosity of

    spirit, wit and collegiality have enhanced my experience at ANU in no small measure.

    In particular I would like to thank Alessandro Antonello, Murray Chisholm, Kim

    Doyle, Arnold Ellem, Diane Erceg, Niki Francis, Brett Goodin, Meggie Hutchison,

    Megan Kelly, Tristan Moss, Anne Rees and Jayne Regan, as well as all the many others

    who have enlivened by candidature. I will always treasure the friendships I have made.

    The work I have completed would not have existed without the incredible support of

    numerous archivists and scholars. Their dedication to their various collections and

    willingness to assist has been of immeasurable help. I am deeply indebted to Kate

    Ashbrook of the Open Spaces Society, who generously supplied me with the most

    comprehensive list of the Society’s archival deposits and also Darren Beatson of the

    National Trust, who was so generous with his time and assistance on my visits. I would

    also like to thank the staff at the Guildhall Library Archives, the London Metropolitan

    Archives, the Wolfson Centre at LSE, the British Library, the Museum of English

    Rural Life, the Lilly Library at Indiana University and the Parliamentary Archives,

    London. Additionally, I am grateful to the volunteers of the Metropolitan Public

    Gardens Association and the Octavia Hill Birthplace Museum. My thanks also go to

    the academics and postgraduates at Mississippi State University, who organised

    SFARE and were so incredibly welcoming.

    A number of scholarships and grants made research at these institutions possible. I

    would like to express my gratitude to the Australian National University College of

  • iii

    Arts and Social Sciences scholarship, which allowed me to spend three months at

    Indiana University. I am also exceptionally appreciative of the ANU Vice Chancellor’s

    travel grant in support of my overseas research and the American Society of

    Environmental History Morgan and Jeanie Sherwood Travel Grant, which enabled me

    to present my work to at an international conference. I am also grateful to the

    Australian Historical Association for the AHA/CAL bursary that provided both

    financial assistance and mentoring.

    Thank you seems an inadequate term to express my deep gratitude towards the many

    friends and found family, who have provided support and understanding during the

    dramatic ups and downs of the last few years. This thesis, quite simply, would not

    have happened without them. Together they have counselled, comforted, housed,

    entertained, hugged and listened to me. Through your example, I have learned

    strength, courage and joy. I would especially like to thank Helen Griffith, Frank

    Higgins, Richard Chesser, Jo Jarvis, Grace Ioppolo, Peter Beale, Sue Jarvis and Lucy

    Salter who made my trips back to the UK a wonderful warm ‘homecoming’. Despite

    years and thousands of miles of separation your friendship has remained a constant. I

    am also deep


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