The National Trust: 125 years old this month

One of Britain’s best known institutions, the National Trust, celebrates a special anniversary in January 2020. On the 12th January it will be 125 years since the Trust was founded in 1895 by Octavia Hill, Sir Robert Hunter and Hardwicke Rawnsley. You can still visit the very first property acquired by the Trust in 1886, Alfriston Clergy House, a medieval thatched house in Sussex. The first nature reserve was Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire, acquired in 1899.

Many in South Wales will be familiar with the properties managed by the Trust in the area, including Tredegar House, Dyffryn Gardens and sections of the coastline.  What they may not appreciate is that, for over 40 years, there was an organisation in Cardiff set up specifically to enable members of the National Trust to obtain more from their membership. The records held at Glamorgan Archives for the Cardiff Association of National Trust Members provide a snap shot of a time when visiting National Trust properties often meant travelling quite considerable distances.  Established in 1971, as part of a network across the country, the Cardiff Association offered an annual programme of visits to historic houses and gardens and a regular monthly round of evening lectures and meetings. The Association was a popular and vibrant group with, at one point, over 800 members.

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Copies of a selection of the Association’s Newsletters held at Glamorgan Archives illustrate the range of activities provided. For example, the newsletter for the autumn of 2002 sets out a programme of up to 3 meetings a month spread across venues in Dinas Powys, Rhiwbina and Lisvane. In October alone guest speakers delivered talks on ‘Churchill and Chartwell’, ‘The Round House on the Kymin’ and the rather enigmatically titled ‘An exercise in looking’. Eight months later, in the summer of 2003, the programme of visits was in full swing with trips to Tyntesfield, Dyrham Park, Abbey House Gardens, Malmesbury, Baddesley Clinton, Packwood House, Wells, Burford House and Croft Castle. The trips, however, were not always straightforward. For example, the outing to Abbey House Gardens included the warning that This is the home of the “Naked Gardener” but don’t worry I haven’t chosen a clothes optional day. On another occasion, on noting that the property had only one toilet and no restaurant facilities, the organiser felt the need to offer reassurance in the form of Do not worry. I will make sure that we will not miss out on the necessities of life!!  There are no clues, unfortunately, as to what she had in mind.

Many National Trust properties were the recipients of funds raised by the Cardiff Association and in particular Llanerchaeron, Ty Mawr and Dinefwr Park. Again this was not always as simple as might be expected. The £1000 given for a new bird hide at Dinefwr produced a response from the manager that the estate was …in pressing need of a new bull. He hopes to purchase the animal in a few weeks so could he use our donation for the purpose?  The change was agreed and possibly the next trip to Dinefwr provided an opportunity for members to view their prize purchase.

The Association was wound up at the end of 2012, ironically just as the management of Tredegar Park and Dyffryn Gardens was being assumed by the National Trust. The last meeting was styled as a Celebratory Lunch and held on Friday 30 November. Although membership numbers had fallen to around 270, there was much to look back on with a sense of achievement and pride. Over £100,000 raised for Trust properties and a programme of talks and visits provided over a 41 year period. The last newsletter made particular reference to the support for …the restoration of the White Cattle with their ancient bloodline to Dinefwr Park. Who knows, but it sounds as though the chance investment in a new bull had paid off after all.

If you would like to see examples of the newsletters produced by the Cardiff Association of National Trust Members, issues 92-93 (covering 2002 and 2003) and issues 119-122 (covering 2011 and 2012) are held at Glamorgan Archives (ref.: D1240/8).

Tony Peters, Glamorgan Archives Volunteer

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