A BALANCE OF TRUST - 'Hindhead is Safe!'
John Owen Smith
The story of Fifty Years in the history of Haslemere and Hindhead, during which The National Trust is founded
Availability: Usually despatched by return of post
Front cover: View of the Devil's Punch Bowl, 1938
Back cover: Part of a map of Haslemere, circa 1820s
Paperback - 60 large pages, plus photographs and maps
John Owen Smith; ISBN: 1-873855-12-5; Sept 1995
Associated titles: The Hilltop Writers by WR Trotter 'Hindhead is Safe by John Owen Smith Heatherley by Flora Thompson
Description . Inside Flap . Back Cover . Contents . List of Illustrations . Excerpt . About the Author . Further information . Playscript . Background
Robert Hunter and Jonathan Hutchinson were both dedicated men ... To a great extent they worked towards the same end. Hunter preserved the commons and open spaces for the good of the nation; and Hutchinson wished to encourage healthy minds and bodies, including the need for people to get out and live in these spaces.
But if people lived there, the spaces would no longer be open. This is the dilemma explored in 'A Balance of Trust.'
In 1995, The National Trust celebrated its centenary. One of the founders, Sir Robert Hunter, lived in Haslemere, Surrey, and so it was appropriate that the Trust's southern region decided to mark the occasion by supporting the idea of a community play to be performed in that town, relating to the Trust's foundation.
Rather than cover the story solely from a national perspective, we gave it a distinctly regional bias, looking at about half a century of local history between the arrival of the railway at Haslemere and of the motor car at Hindhead. These were critical events by any measure, and conveniently embraced the Trust's significant year, 1895.
Haslemere had sunk into lethargy since the first Reform Bill robbed it of its Members of Parliament in 1832. It was, quite literally, on the road to nowhere, until the railway in 1859 opened up the area as a commuter belt. Some would say this shook a bit of life into the district; others that it marked the end of the old village and the start of an inevitable progression towards urban sprawl.
It put extra pressure on the use of land. Acts of Enclosure in the mid 1850s had allowed common land to be parcelled up and sold to rich 'incomers,' who often fenced it off and denied entry to others. The railway now provided a ready means of access from London and elsewhere, and added to the incentive to buy and build. In short, the area was earmarked for invasion.
In this it was not unique. It was the fight to protect open spaces in other parts of the country which eventually led to the creation of the National Trust, but the district around Haslemere, and in particular Hindhead Common, was to benefit quickly from the organisation which Hunter had helped to found.
The local newspapers in 1905 confidently declared 'Hindhead Safe' when the common was bought at auction by a group of public-spirited local residents and conveyed to the Trust. This feeling was given further support in 1907 when Parliament passed an act under which the Trust was given the power to declare its land as 'inalienable.' This designation protects the property from compulsory purchase by a local authority or by a ministry - it can only be taken by a special Act of Parliament.
Today, of course, the pressure comes from the motor vehicle. With dual carriageway along the whole length of the A3 from London to Portsmouth except for the few miles across Hindhead, it seems that something has to give as the 'irresistible' force of the juggernaut meets the 'immovable', or at least 'inalienable,' property of the Trust.
So is Hindhead truly safe? Will it be forced to wear a deep scar, like Butser Hill and Twyford Down - will it be tunnelled under like Tyndall's cherished Alps - or will some completely novel solution to the problem emerge?
At the time of writing, we can only say: "Watch this (open) space!"
A story of 50 years of Haslemere and Hindhead history from 1865-1905, during which time the National Trust is founded and Hindhead is 'saved.'
Meet Sir Robert Hunter, co-founder of the Trust, Sir Jonathan Hutchinson, eminent surgeon and founder of Haslemere Museum, plus many other local and national personalities such as Alfred Lord Tennyson and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
Illustrated with photographs and maps of the period.
Haslemere, July 1883
Threats of enclosure by land owners brought strong reactions from local people, and William Allingham, now living with his wife Helen at Sandhills near Witley, began a petition against one such instance. Arriving at Haslemere station one day, he began looking for people to add their names to his list.
"Now, sir, have you heard about Lord Derby's plans to enclose his property up towards Hindhead?" The man he addressed stopped, but showed reluctance to become involved with a complete stranger. Allingham persisted, "He only bought it recently, but we're told he's thinking of fencing off some of the open space there."
The man shook his head and moved on. Allingham tried another. "I think you'll agree, won't you sir, there's an awful lot too much of our countryside being taken away from us right now." This time he had better luck - the person had heard of the threat, and Allingham pressed him, "Will you sign our petition against the enclosure?" He did so - one more signature. "That's very kind of you, sir."
A lady looked interested, and he offered the paper to her - "Madam?" - and by way of giving the matter more weight, added, "I've already got Professor Tyndall's signature here - caught him at the station."
In this way he collected several names, while all the time moving through the town towards his intended goal. "Yes, I'm off to get Mr Tennyson's signature now," he assured one well-wisher, as he made his way along the road to Aldworth. Arriving somewhat out of breath after the climb, he met Tennyson's elder son at the gate.
"Good day to you, Hallam."
"Hello, Mr Allingham - how are you?"
"I'm well, thank you," he replied, leaning on the gate-post for support and holding the petition in his other hand.
"You have some more poems there?" Allingham and his father often swapped notes on verses they were writing, or more often re-writing.
"Poems?" said Allingham, confused for the moment. "No, it's a petition I have here. Is your father in?"
"He is - just up from his afternoon rest."
Normally this was not a good time of day to visit the great man, now in his seventy-fourth year, but Allingham had forgotten in his keenness to get signatures. Hallam led him into the house and towards his father's study. Tennyson was seated in an armchair beside a table piled high with books.
"Allingham, just the man. Perhaps you can help."
Allingham was familiar with such requests and wondered what it would be about this time. "I'll do my best," he replied.
"I'm not satisfied with this." Tennyson took a volume off the table and started to search through the pages. "Where is it now? - I was reading it earlier - ah yes, here." He opened the book fully and began to recite in his majestic voice, "Low-flowing breezes are roaming the broad valley dimm'd in the gloaming..." He read a few stanzas then said to Allingham, "You know the one - what do you think of it?"
Strange, thought Allingham to himself, how the greatest living poet of the day should still feel the need to review and criticise his earlier work in this way. "That's a very old favourite of mine," he said. "I hope you won't alter it."
The older man looked at him. "Some of the things in it don't seem to agree with the time spoken of."
"The total effect is harmonious though," protested Allingham. "It's like a landscape in an old Italian picture."
"I know, but I fear the water-gnats are not right - they would not be out so late."
At this Allingham laughed out loud. That such trivialities should trouble the man! He shook his head. "I shouldn't be too concerned with the water-gnats," he said.
Tennyson was not entirely convinced. "I shall put it by for further consideration," he replied, then noticed for the first time the paper in Allingham's hand. Unlike Hallam, he realised at once that it was not poetry. Locally, Allingham was as well-known for his campaigns as for his verse. "You have a letter there," he observed.
"To Lord Derby," said Allingham, "concerning an enclosure he's threatening to make."
"Should I sign?" The Poet Laureate was already holding out his hand for it.
"Your signature would add considerable weight."
"You already have Tyndall I see."
"He told me that he knew Lord Derby intended to keep the beauty of the place unspoilt," Allingham admitted, "but we can never be too sure, can we."
"Well I'll add my name, for what good it may do." He took a pen from the holder and made his mark. "Now let us talk of other things," he said, and they spent an hour or more in further discussion before the light outside began to fade and Allingham insisted he must go. Tennyson walked out with him onto Blackdown, and pointed to the sky in the west. "Have you noticed the sunsets we're having just now?" he said. They had been a strange, rich colour for some days.
"Volcanic they say," Allingham remarked.
"The floating ghost of a mountain blown to atoms." Tennyson's sonorous voice somehow matched the splendour in the heavens.
They stood watching the red glow, and Allingham was reminded of another, more human glory which Tennyson had recently observed. "How was your steamer trip with Gladstone and the Great Folk?" he asked. "You read them The Grandmother, did you not?"
"The Princess of Wales asked for it - she had heard it read before."
"And her sister, the Tsarina?"
Tennyson chuckled. "When I had done, the ladies praised me, and I patted the unknown one on the back by way of reply. Only afterwards did I find out she was the Empress of Russia!"
"And how did the Tsar take it?"
"He looked very stern. I am probably lucky still to be alive."
Allingham started to move on. "I must go down to Mr Hodgson for his signature before it gets too late."
"Then let me accompany you to the Sussex Gate."
"You will not step over into Surrey tonight?"
"No - but I'll strike the gatepost with my stick; I generally do - like Johnson did with the posts in Fleet Street." And with that the two men walked into the gathering dusk, down the lane towards Haslemere.
About the Author
John Owen Smith was born in 1942 and trained as a Chemical Engineer at London University, but spent most of his working life designing commercial Information Systems for the paper-making industry. Following redundancy, he 'fell' into researching and recording the local history of east Hampshire, where he now lives. His output of historical community plays, lectures, articles and books includes:-
on the founding of The National Trust
and its acquisition
This book is also available as a playscript.
Please feel free to contact me if you would like to share information on the history of Hindhead and Haslemere. See address details on Home Page