The Women Who Saved the English Countryside


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Matthew Kelly

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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.

“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

“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
ISBN: 9780300270396
Publication Date: June 13, 2023
400 pages, 5 x 7 3/4
15 color. + 4 b/w illus.