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‘God's earth will be sacred’: Religion, Theology, and the Open Space Movement in Victorian England

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  07 March 2011

ELIZABETH BAIGENT
Affiliation:
Wycliffe Hall, University of Oxford, Oxford, OX2 6PW, UKElizabeth.baigent@geog.ox.ac.uk
Corresponding

Abstract

The Victorian open space movement is accounted for variously by nostalgia, progress, and a changed conception of national identity, but explanatory factors are generally understood in secular ways which take little account of the pervasive influence of contemporary Christianity. These explanations overlap with discussions of nineteenth-century leisure which stress its links with secularisation. Christianity however was a significant motivation for some open space campaigners whose theology explained how nature was to uplift those who experienced it. This paper considers the Commons Preservation Society, founded in 1865; the preservation of Epping Forest for recreation between 1865 and 1880; and the forest's management in the 1880s and 1890s. It argues that although histories of the Commons Preservation Society and the Epping Forest campaign describe them in secular, rational terms, many prominent campaigners were motivated by religion, in the sense of orthodox Christianity. Practical religion significantly affected the development of mass recreation for the poor in the forest. Explanations of the open space movement which ignore religion thus seem inadequate.

Type
Research Article
Copyright
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2011

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53. Members of both the Commons Preservation Society and the Cobden Club included George Shaw Lefevre, Edward North Buxton, Henry Fawcett, and Thomas Henry Farrer. A.C. Howe, ‘The Cobden Club’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Other Commons Preservation Society free traders included Thomas Hughes (Charlotte Mitchell, ‘Hughes, Thomas’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography); Andrew Johnston (The Times, 18th April 1910); George Burney (G. Burney, Epping Forest to be Saved without a Corn Tax! (Milwall, 1872); Robert Hunter (H. Rawnsley, ‘A National Benefactor – Sir Robert Hunter’, Cornhill Magazine (February 1914, 230–39); and Octavia Hill, ‘The Future of our Commons’, pp. 175–206 in Hill, Our Common Land, pp. 181–2). For the link between open space and free trade in Epping Forest in particular see Buxton, Epping Forest 1923 edition, p. 15.

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56. David Robertson, ‘Mid Victorians amongst the Alps’, in Knoepflmacher and Tennyson, Nature and the Victorian Imagination, pp. 113–136. Members of both the Commons Preservation Society and Alpine Club included James Bryce, Edward North Buxton, and Leslie Stephen. C. Harvie, ‘Bryce, James’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography; Elizabeth Baigent, ‘Buxton, Edward North’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

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61. Hill's Commons Preservation Society work related largely to lands in Kent and Surrey rather than Epping Forest, even though she had briefly lived at Loughton in the forest. Gillian Darley, personal communication, 2003, and Octavia Hill, pp. 27–8. Hill's Letters to Fellow Workers contain numerous references to open space campaigns in Kent and Surrey.

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65. ‘Open Spaces’, pp. 110–11 (originally a lecture to the National Health Society in 1877).

66. ‘Open Spaces’, pp. 105–51.

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73. Cited in Meller, Leisure and the Changing City, pp. 141, 118, 151. Canon Rawnsley, co-founder of the National Trust, was the first chaplain to this mission in his youth. G. Murphy, ‘Rawnsely, Hardwick Drummond’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

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76. Shaw Lefevre, English Commons and Forests; Eversley, Commons, Forests, and Footpaths; and see Peek, H.W. and Maidlow, J. M., eds, Six Essays on Commons Preservation: Written in Competition for Prizes (London, 1867)Google Scholar. Thompson, E.P., Customs in Common (London, 1991)Google Scholar and Taylor, Antony, ‘“Commons-stealers”, “land-grabbers” and “jerry-builders”: Space, Popular Radicalism and the Politics of Public Access in London, 1848–1880’, International Review of Social History, 40:3 (1995), 383408CrossRefGoogle Scholar are the only real exceptions and neither is well informed. See full discussion in Baigent, ‘A “splendid pleasure ground”’.

77. For suicides see e.g. ‘Dreadful Occurrence in Epping Forest’, Jackson's Oxford Journal (26th August 1837); ‘The Mysterious Tragedy in Epping Forest — Inquest’, The Morning Chronicle (21st December 1858). For murders see e.g. ‘Confession of the Murder of a Woman in Epping Forest’, The Caledonian Mercury (17th July 1863); ‘The Epping Forest Murder — Examination of the Prisoner’, The Illustrated Police News (22nd June 1878). For gypsies see e.g. ‘The “gypsies” of Epping Forest’, Daily News (27th August 1874). For prostitution see e.g. ‘The Epping Forest Commission’, Daily News (11th November 1875).

78. Miss Minnie Roberts cited in Green, Georgina, Keepers, Cockneys, and Kitchen Maids: Memories of Epping Forest 1900–1925 (Woodford Bridge, 1987), p. 57Google Scholar. Reid, ‘Playing and Praying’, p. 762.

79. ‘The Epping Forest Commission’, Daily News (11th November 1875).

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82. ‘Epping Forest’, Daily News (12th February 1872); ‘Epping Forest’, Daily News (15th July 1873); ‘Epping Forest’, Daily News (12th February 1872); ‘Mr. Lowe on Epping Forest’, Daily News (28th September 1872); ‘Epping Forest’, The Times (8th July 1871); ‘The Preservation of Epping Forest’, The Times (12th February 1872); ‘Epping Forest’, Lloyd's Weekly Newspaper (19th November 1871); Bedford, J.T., The Story of the Preservation of Epping Forest (London, 1882)Google Scholar; ‘Epping Forest’, The Times (3rd August 1869).

83. Reardon, Religious Thought, p. 21.

84. See e.g. ‘The Encroachments on Epping Forest’, Reynolds's Newspaper (29th October 1871); Baigent, ‘“A splendid pleasure ground”’, for the campaign as a populist, not a class, battle.

85. See e.g. Letters from Reverend A. F. Russell, The Times (11th and 24th November 1884).

86. At Mousehold Heath, poor commoners fought for their common rights, which benefitted them materially whilst having deleterious aesthetic effects, but were defeated by the corporation, its middle class supporters, the church, and the Commons Preservation Society, and the common became a park. MacMaster, ‘Mousehold Heath’.

87. For commons protests with greater spontaneous working class involvement see Allen, Robert, ‘The Battle for Plumstead Common’, South London Record 1 (1985), 1620Google Scholar; Allen, Robert, ‘The Battle for the Commons: Politics and Populism in mid-Victorian Kentish London’, Social History 22 (1997) 6177CrossRefGoogle Scholar; MacMaster, ‘Mousehold Heath’. Taylor, ‘“Commons-stealers”’ argues otherwise for Epping Forest but contains several serious errors of fact. See Joyce, P., Visions of the People: Industrial England and the Question of Class 1848–1914 (Cambridge, 1991)CrossRefGoogle Scholar for populism.

88. The Commons Preservation Society needed local commoners in order to mount legal challenges to enclosure, but its relationship with locals could be problematic, as at Mousehold Heath (MacMaster, ‘Mousehold Heath’) where their aims were quite different, and at Epping Forest where sharp words between local and national preservationists were exchanged in the press after the battle was won; see Baigent, ‘“A splendid pleasure ground”’ for recriminations.

89. Buxton, Fowell ‘gave much thought to church affairs on the practical side’, in Russell, G. W. E., Lady Victoria Buxton: A Memoir, with some Account of her Husband (London, 1919), p. 114Google Scholar; Reid, ‘Playing and Praying’, p. 796 for ‘practical Christianity’ as a stimulus to Christian social work.

90. Morgan, G., The History of Fifty Years Work of the Abbey Street Sunday Schools, Bethnal Green (Bethnal Green, 1890), pp. 9Google Scholar, 10, available at http://www.ferdinando.org.uk/book_files.htm, consulted 22nd April 2010; The Times (31st July 1866).

91. Letter of 17th January 1834 cited in Buxton, C., Memoirs of Sir Thomas Fowell Buxton, Baronet, with Selections from his Correspondence (London, 1848), p. 361Google Scholar.

92. Green, Keepers, Cockneys, and Kitchen Maids, p. 24. Edward North Buxton (1894–1957) was grandson to the Edward North who was active in the Commons Preservation Society and, like him, was verderer of the forest. Burke's Peerage, Baronetage, and Knightage (London, various edns).

93. Russell, Lady Victoria Buxton, p. 115.

94. Howell, P.A., ‘Varieties of Vice-Regal Life with Special Reference to the Constitutional Role of the Governors of South Australia, 1890–1927’, Journal of the Historical Society of South Australia, 3 (1977), 1548Google Scholar; Peter Howell, personal communication, 29th June 2000; E. Baigent, ‘Buxton, Sir Thomas Fowell’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

95. Both brothers were fellows of the Royal Geographical Society and Edward North was a knowledgeable natural historian. Baigent, ‘Buxton, Edward North’; Buxton, ‘The Late Mr E. N. Buxton’, pp. 12–14; James R. Ryan, ‘Photography, Geography, and Empire 1840–1914’ (unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of London, 1994), pp. 144–5; Howell, ‘Varieties of Vice-Regal Life’, p. 27. Edward North Buxton aimed to stop indiscriminate slaughter of game, rather than to stop hunting completely.

96. Russell, Lady Victoria Buxton, p. 114.

97. Russell, Lady Victoria Buxton, p. 114. The breadth of their evangelicalism is shown by Fowell Buxton's refurbishing of the Lady Chapel at Waltham Abbey and the building of St Thomas's Church, Upshire, near Warlies, in 1901–2. Both projects exhibited an artistic discernment unusual amongst evangelicals. James Bettley and Nikolaus Pevsner, Essex, Buildings of England, p. 801; Daniel Wackett, personal communication, 18th September 2009. He also commissioned a crucifix (Howell, ‘Varieties of Vice-Regal Life’, p. 27). The donated land was at Oak Hill, Theydon Bois, and Yardley Hill, Sewardstone. Baigent, ‘Buxton, Edward North’.

98. ‘The Epping Forest Fund’, Daily News (1st February 1877).

99. E. Baigent, ‘Brady, Sir Antonio’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography; George, W.H., Sir Antonio Brady (1811–1881): Civil Servant, Fossil Collector, and Philanthropist of West Ham, Essex (Barking, 1999)Google Scholar; A. Brady, ‘The humble. . .address and petition of the inhabitants of the East End of London, in public meeting assembled, on Wanstead Flats 8th July 1871’ (Stratford, 1871).

100. Taylor, Brandon, Art for the Nation: Exhibitions and the London Public 1747–2001 (Manchester, 1999)Google Scholar.

101. Harrison, Peaceable Kingdom, p. 140.

102. ‘The Saving of Epping Forest – The Late John T. Bedford’, City Press 3rd March 1900; biography of the Bedford family, typescript, Corporation of London Records Office. I am grateful to Dr Anita McConnell for these two sources. Bedford, The Preservation of Epping Forest.

103. Hawkins, Henry, London's Great Legacy: Epping Forest described by Pen and Camera (London, n.d. 1895?), pp. 16 and 127Google Scholar.

104. Offer, Property and Politics, chapter 20; Murphy, Founders of the National Trust; Cannadine, ‘The First Hundred Years’; Ranlett, ‘“Checking nature's desecration”’.

105. Baigent, ‘“A splendid pleasure ground’”.

106. Brace, Catherine, ‘A Pleasure Ground for the Noisy Herds? Incompatible Encounters with the Cotswolds and England 1900–1950’, Rural History 11:1 (2000), 7594CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Howkins, ‘What is the Countryside For?’

107. Offer, Property and Politics, p. 348.

108. Murphy, Founders of the National Trust, p. 105.

109. Matless, Landscape and Englishness, pp. 62, 68; Jones, G. Stedman ‘Cockney and the Nation 1780–1988’, in Feldman, D. and Jones, G. Stedman, eds, Metropolis London: Histories and Representations since 1800 (London, 1989), pp. 272324Google Scholar.

110. For descriptions of East Enders in Epping Forest see Morrison, Arthur, To London Town (London, 1899)Google Scholar. Morrison was familiar with the East End and latterly lived in the forest at Loughton. I am grateful to Richard Dennis for this reference.

111. Holland, Henry Scott, A Bundle of Memories (London, 1915), pp. 241–2Google Scholar, 246–7, cited in Offer, Property and Politics, pp. 348–9.

112. Green, Keepers, Cockneys, and Kitchen Maids, p. 7.

113. Hunter, Robert, The Epping Forest Act 1878, with an Introduction, Notes, and Index by R. Hunter (London, 1878)Google Scholar.

114. ‘Epping Forest E. N. Buxton’ The Times (3rd February 1883).

115. ‘Epping Forest’, The Times (12th February 1881).

116. ‘Epping Forest’, The Times (14th February 1881); ‘Epping Forest’, The Times (25th November 1881).

117. ‘The Epping Forest Railway’, The Times (12th March 1883).

118. ‘The Epping Forest Railway Bill. House of Commons, Monday, March 12, Division Railway defeated’, The Times (14th March 1883).

119. ‘Epping Forest and the Great Eastern Railway’, Daily News (29th December 1880).

120. Epping Forest, (preface to 1923 edition).

121. Russell, Lady Victoria Buxton, p. 115. Baigent, ‘Buxton, Sir (Thomas) Fowell’.

122. Owen, David, English Philanthropy 1600–1960 (Cambridge, Mass., 1965), p. 387Google Scholar cited in Whelan, ‘Preface’ to Hill, Letters to Fellow-Workers, p. xxvii.

123. Cited in Darley, Octavia Hill, pp. 172–3.

124. Hill, ‘Our Common Land’, pp. 2–4.

125. ‘Epping Forest and the Great Eastern Railway’, Daily News (29th December 1880).

126. E.B. Aveling, National Reformer (27th July 1879), cited in Gould, Early Green Politics, p. 19.

127. ‘Epping Forest’, The Times (22nd February 1881).

128. National Parks and the Heritage of Scenery (London, 1930), pp. 24–5; Cornish did not dispense with God altogether, unlike many other nature mystics, but his was not an orthodox Christian God (Matless, Landscape and Englishness, p. 86).

129. Harrison, Peaceable Kingdom, p. 127.

130. His grandfather Fowell Buxton the elder's support for the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals ‘did not intrude upon his game-shooting’ (Harrison, Peaceable Kingdom, p. 148). Morrison, London Town, p. 32 describes a particularly cruel way of poaching deer in the forest.

131. Harrison, Peaceable Kingdom, p. 149.

132. Mrs Minnie Roberts, cited in Green, Keepers, Cockneys, and Kitchen Maids, p. 35. Cf. Harrison, Peaceable Kingdom, p. 149.

133. Peaceable Kingdom, p. 155

134. For example, boys’ clubs, mothers’ meetings. Reid, ‘Playing and Praying’, pp. 797–8.

135. Walton, ‘Respectability takes a Holiday’, p. 177.

136. Shiman, Lilian L., ‘The Band of Hope Movement: Respectable Recreation for Working-Class Children’, Victorian Studies, 17 (1973), 4974Google Scholar. Morrison, To London Town, mentions informal groups of costermongers and an organised party of engineers and shipwrights as examples of non church ‘beanfeasters’, the former drinking at a pub (pp. 10–11).

137. Mrs Minnie Roberts cited in Green, Keepers, Cockneys, and Kitchen Maids, p. 67; Ward, Bernard, The Retreats of Epping Forest (Loughton, 1978)Google Scholar.

138. Mrs A.E. Martin cited in Green, Keepers, Cockneys, and Kitchen Maids, p. 21; Shiman, ‘Band of Hope’.

139. Ward, Retreats of Epping Forest, p. 11.

140. Darley, Octavia Hill, p. 175.

141. Green, Keepers, Cockneys, and Kitchen Maids, pp. 54–5.

142. Mrs Constance Haggar cited in Green, Keepers, Cockneys, and Kitchen Maids, pp. 20–1.

143. Reid, ‘Playing and Praying’, pp. 746–7.

144. Ward, Retreats of Epping Forest.

145. Mrs Minnie Roberts cited in Green, Keepers, Cockneys, and Kitchen Maids, p. 65.

146. Sidney Riggs cited in Green, Keepers, Cockneys, and Kitchen Maids, pp. 21–2.

147. ‘Cripples in Epping Forest’, Daily News (25th August 1899).

148. Ward, Retreats, p. 4.

149. Sidney Riggs cited in Green, Keepers, Cockneys, and Kitchen Maids, pp. 21–2.

150. My italics. She uses the phrase frequently e.g. ‘Open Spaces’, pp. 108, 114.

151. For example, public meeting in Shoreditch Town Hall (‘The Preservation of Epping Forest’, Daily News (10th December 1874)).

152. For Kyrle Society artistic work which seems to have been free from religious motivation see Elizabeth Crawford, ‘Wilkinson, Fanny Rollo’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography and R.M. Mitchell, ‘Barrington, Emilie Isabel’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. For Kyrle social work which was religiously motivated see Krista Cowman, ‘Beavan, Margaret’ Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Anne Anderson and Elizabeth Darling, ‘The Hill Sisters: Cultural Philanthropy and the Embellishment of Lives in Late Nineteenth-Century England’, pp. 33– 50 in Elizabeth Darling and Lesley Whitworth, eds, Women and the Making of Built Space in England 1870–1950 (Aldershot, 2007) give a feminist and secular interpretation of the society. Octavia Hill, ‘The Kyrle Society’, The Magazine of Art (1880), 210.

153. Rawnsley, ‘A National Benefactor’, p. 239.

154. Rawnsley, Canon Rawnsley; G. Murphy, ‘Rawnsley, Hardwicke Drummond’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

155. Crossthwaite Parish Magazine cited in Rawnsley, Canon Rawnsley, p. 58, and see p. 184.

156. It was said of the younger Fowell Buxton's faith that, ‘Though of the Evangelical type, it had a character of its own’ (Russell, Lady Victoria Buxton, p. 116); Spence, ‘The “restitution of all things”’.

157. Mandler, ‘Against “Englishness”’, and Gould, Early Green Politics.

158. Some more radical contemporary theology would, however, dispute that satisfaction entails a right relationship with all of creation.

159. Mervyn Stockwood, cited in Garnett et al., Redefining Christian Britain, p. 99.

160. Hill.

161. Hill condemns the Quakers’ sale of Bunhill Fields burial ground for building, and praises the Church of England's opening of inner city graveyards for recreation (‘Open Spaces’).

162. Bettany, Frederick George, Stewart Headlam: A Biography (London, 1926), pp. 213Google Scholar, 37–8; Orens, John Richard, Stewart Headlam's Radical Anglicanism: The Mass, the Masses, and the Music Hall (Urbana, Ill., 2003)Google Scholar; Headlam, Stewart D., Fabianism and Land Values: A Lecture Given to the Fabian Society 23 Oct 1908 (London, 1908)Google Scholar. His interest in nature was primarily in radical land questions inspired by Henry George, when he again went against his class.

163. Hobson, J.A., ‘The Influence of Henry George in England’, Fortnightly Review, 68 (1897), 836–42Google Scholar, pp. 841–2 cited in Offer, Property and Politics, p. 197.

164. One would expect to find fewer nonconformists than Anglicans given the religious allegiance of the population as a whole, and given the over representation of Anglicans in the elite who dominated the early National Trust and Commons Preservation Society. None the less, there are even fewer nonconformists than one would expect. There are none at all for example amongst the founders of the Trust and the committee of the Commons Preservation Society reviewed for this paper. The early National Trust, Commons Preservation Society, and other preservation societies kept membership dues high to encourage the right sort of person, and sometimes actively discouraged the support of ordinary people. Readman, ‘Preserving the English Landscape’, pp. 199–200; Cowell, ‘Berkhamstead Common’, p. 148.

165. The labouring Willingale family also opposed enclosure but by deeds, not words (Thompson, ‘The Willingales of Loughton’). The elder Willingale and Maynard appeared together in just one reported public meeting about the forest (‘Excursion of the Epping Forest Preservation Society to Loughton’, Daily News, 20th September 1867).

166. Mandler, ‘Against “Englishness”’, p. 171; Offer, Property and Politics, p. 349; Matless, Landscape and Englishness, p. 68; Morrison, To London Town, p. 5.

167. See e.g. Tyack, Sir James Pennethorne, ch. 3.

168. Lady Bell (Florence E.E. Bell), At the Works: a Study of a Manufacturing Town (London, 1907), p. 126, cited in Offer, Property and Politics, p. 349.

169. Masterman, Charles F.G., The Condition of England (London, 1909), p. 203Google Scholar, cited in Offer, Property and Politics, p. 349.

170. Canon Rawnsley, cited in Rawnsley, Canon Rawnsley, p. 65.

171. ‘The “Gypsies” of Epping Forest’, Daily News (27th August 1874).

172. Letter to The Times (7th April 1882).

173. Sörlin, Sverker and Warde, Paul, ‘The Problem of the Problem of Environmental History: A Re-reading of the Field’, Environmental History 12 (2007), 107130CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Hornborg, A., McNeill, J., and Martinez-Alier, J., Rethinking Environmental History (Lanham MD, 2007)Google Scholar; Cooper, Timothy, ‘The Politics of Environmental History’, Journal of Historical Geography 36 (2010), 349–52CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

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