National Trust for Places of Historic Interest or Natural Beauty

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National Trust sign at the Giant's Causeway

The National Trust for Places of Historic Interest or Natural Beauty, usually known as the National Trust, is a conservation organisation in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. The Trust does not operate in Scotland, where there is an independent National Trust for Scotland.

According to its website:

The National Trust works to preserve and protect the coastline, countryside and buildings of England, Wales and Northern Ireland. We do this in a range of ways, through practical caring and conservation, through educating and informing, and through encouraging millions of people to enjoy their national heritage.[1]

The Trust owns many heritage properties, including historic houses and gardens, industrial monuments and social history sites. It is one of the largest landowners in the United Kingdom, owning many beauty spots, most of which are open to the public free of charge. It is the largest membership organisation in the United Kingdom, and one of the largest British charities by both income and assets.


Wicken Fen, acquired by the National Trust in 1899

The National Trust for Places of Historic Interest or Natural Beauty was formed in 1895 and is a charitable organisation. Its formal purpose is:

The preservation for the benefit of the Nation of lands and tenements (including buildings) of beauty or historic interest and, as regards lands, for the preservation of their natural aspect, features and animal and plant life. Also the preservation of furniture, pictures and chattels of any description having national and historic or artistic interest.

The Trust was founded on 12 January 1895 by Octavia Hill (1838–1912), Robert Hunter (1844–1913) and Canon Hardwicke Rawnsley (1851–1920), prompted in part by the earlier success of Charles Eliot and the Kyrle Society. A fourth individual, the 1st Duke of Westminster (1825–1899), is also referred to in many texts as being a principal contributor to the formation of the Trust.

In the early days the Trust was concerned primarily with protecting open spaces and a variety of threatened buildings; its first property was Alfriston Clergy House and its first nature reserve was Wicken Fen. Its first archaeological monument was White Barrow. The Trust's symbol, a sprig of oak leaves and acorns, is thought to have been inspired by a carving in the cornice of the Alfriston Clergy House.

Carving of an oak leaf at Alfriston Clergy House

The Trust has been the beneficiary of numerous donations of both property and money. However, probably the most bizarre were those given by mysterious masked group known as Ferguson's Gang between about 1932 and 1940.

The focus on country houses and gardens which now comprise the majority of its most visited properties came about in the mid 20th century when it was realised that the private owners of many of these properties were no longer able to afford to maintain them. Many were donated to the Trust in lieu of death duties. The diarist James Lees-Milne is usually credited with playing a central role in the main phase of the Trust's country house acquisition programme, though he was in fact simply an employee of the Trust, and was carrying through policies which had already been decided by its governing body.

One of the biggest crises in the Trust's history erupted at the 1967 annual general meeting, when the leadership of the Trust was accused of being out of touch and placing too much emphasis on conserving country houses. In response, the Council asked Sir Henry Benson to chair an advisory Committee to review the structure of the trust. Following the publication of the Benson Report in 1968 much of the administration of the Trust was devolved to the regions.

In 2005 the Trust moved to a new head office in Swindon, Wiltshire. The building was constructed on an abandoned railway yard, and is intended as a model of "brownfield" renewal. It is named Heelis, which is the married name of writer Beatrix Potter, one of the National Trust's most important benefactors.[2]


The Trust is an independent charity and not a government institution. It was founded as a not-for-profit company in 1894 but was later re-incorporated by a private Act of Parliament, the National Trust Act 1907. Subsequent Acts of Parliament between 1919 and 1978 amended and extended the Trust's powers and remit. In 2005 the governance of the Trust was substantially changed under a Scheme made by the Charity Commission.[3]

The Trust is governed by a 12-strong Board of Trustees. The Board is appointed and overseen by a Council which comprises 26 people elected by the members of the Trust, and 26 people appointed by other organisations whose work is related to that of the Trust, such as The Soil Association, the Royal Horticultural Society, and the Council for British Archaeology.[4]

At an operational level the Trust is organised into regions which are aligned with the official local government regions. Its headquarters are in Swindon. The Central Office building is Heelis, taken from the married name of children's author Beatrix Potter, a huge supporter of and donor to the Trust.


For the year ended 28 February 2007, the Trust's total income was £357.2 million. The largest sources of income were membership subscriptions (£100.3 million), direct property income (£81.7 million) and legacies (£47.1 million). In addition, the Trust's commercial arm, National Trust Enterprises Ltd, which undertakes profit-making activities such as running gift shops and restaurants at properties, contributed £48 million.

Expenses included £143.7 million for routine property running costs and £70.9 million for capital projects.

The Trust is heavily supported by volunteers, who numbered about 49,000 in 2006-2007, contributing almost 3 million hours of work worth a notional £21.3 million.

At 28 February 2007 the Trust's investment fund was over £942 million, most of which is in tied funds which support specific properties and projects. This sum does not count the substantial value of the Trust's 'heritage assets' which are held inalienably, and so could not be realised even if the Trust wanted to. However, for insurance purposes those assets are valued at £5.7 billion.[5]


The Trust is one of the largest membership organisations in the world and annual subscriptions are its most important source of income. Membership numbers have grown from 226,200 when the Trust celebrated its 75th anniversary in 1970 to 500,000 in 1975, one million in 1981, two million in 1990 and by 2007, membership had reached 3.5 million. Members are entitled to free entry to trust properties that are open to the public at a charge.

The members elect half of the Council of the National Trust, and periodically (most recently in 2006) vote on the organisations which may appoint the other half of the Council. Members may also propose and vote on motions at the annual general meeting, although these are advisory and do not decide the policy of the Trust.

In the 1990s a dispute over whether stag hunting should be permitted on National Trust land caused bitter disputes within the organisation and was the subject of much debate at annual general meetings, but it did little to slow down the growth in member numbers.

There is a separate organisation called "The Royal Oak Foundation" for American supporters.


The National Trust was founded in 1895 by 3 volunteers. Last year the National Trust was helped by 47,000 volunteers. Volunteering experiences at the National Trust are varied, ranging from helping in historic houses and gardens to fundraising and providing specialist skills. [6]

National Trust properties

Historic houses and gardens

A pond at Wallington Hall, Northumberland

The Trust owns two hundred historic houses that are open to the public. The majority of them are country houses and most of the others are associated with famous individuals. The majority of these country houses contain collections of pictures, furniture, books, metalwork, ceramics and textiles that have remained in their historic context. Most of the houses also have important gardens attached to them, and the Trust also owns some important gardens not attached to a house. The properties include some of the most famous stately homes in the country and some of the key gardens in the history of British gardening.

The trust acquired the majority of its country houses in the mid 20th century, when death duties were at their most punitive. James Lees-Milne was secretary of the trust's Country House Committee in the key period either side of World War II. The arrangements made with families bequeathing their homes to the trust often allowed them to continue to live in part of the property. Since the 1980s the trust has been reluctant to take over large houses without substantial accompanying endowment funds, and its acquisitions in this category have been less frequent.

Coast and countryside

On the Longshaw Estate, Derbyshire
Cliffs and Worm's Head at Rhossili

The Trust's land holdings account for more than 623,000 acres (970 square miles), mostly of countryside, covering nearly 1.5% of the total land mass of England, Wales and Northern Ireland. A large proportion of this consists of the parks and agricultural estates attached to country houses, but there are also many countryside properties which were acquired specifically for their scenic or scientific value. The Trust owns or has covenant over about a quarter of the Lake District; it has similar control over about 12% of the Peak District National Park. It owns or protects roughly one fifth of the coast in England, Wales and Northern Ireland (704 miles), and has a long-term campaign, "Project Neptune", which seeks to acquire more.

Other properties

In recent years the Trust has sought to broaden its activities and appeal by acquiring properties such as former mills (early factories), workhouses and Paul McCartney's and John Lennon's childhood homes.

Protection of Trust property

The National Trust Acts grant the Trust the unique statutory power to declare land 'inalienable'. This prevents the land from being sold or mortgaged against the Trust's wishes without special parliamentary procedure. The inalienability of Trust land was overridden by Parliament in the case of proposals to construct a section of the Plympton by-pass through the park at Saltram, on the grounds that the road proposal had been known about before the park at Saltram was declared inalienable.[7]

The Acts also give the Trust the power to make bylaws to regulate the activities of people when on its land. All photography at National Trust properties other than that for private and personal use or for entry into approved competitions is strictly prohibited.[8] Private and personal use means they cannot be displayed on the internet.[9]

Most visited properties


Stourhead's landscape garden
Waddesdon Manor in Buckinghamshire

The 2007–08 annual report contains a list of all National Trust properties for which an admission charge is made that attracted more than 50,000 visitors in the year. The top ten were:

  1. Wakehurst Place Garden — 477,173 (administered and maintained by the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew)
  2. Waddesdon Manor — 386,544
  3. Stourhead — 382,271
  4. Fountains Abbey & Studley Royal — 348,725
  5. Polesden Lacey — 258,310
  6. Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge — 222,613
  7. Penrhyn Castle — 212,727
  8. Belton House — 212,256
  9. St Michael's Mount — 203,798
  10. Sheffield Park Garden — 202,940


  1. Wakehurst Place Garden — 439,260
  2. Stourhead — 333,896
  3. Fountains Abbey|Fountains Abbey & Studley Royal — 313,388
  4. Waddesdon Manor — 304,902
  5. Polesden Lacey — 268,738
  6. St Michael's Mount — 194,811
  7. Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge — 184,904
  8. Penrhyn Castle — 183,547
  9. Sheffield Park Garden — 180,316
  10. Belton House — 179,807

See also

Outside links

National Trust sign



  • Fedden, Robin, Joekes, Rosemary, "The National Trust Guide to England, Wales, and Northern Ireland", Norton, 1973. ISBN 0-393-01876-8.