London Open Spaces

The current battle against development on open land is one that has been ongoing in Britain since the first enclosures of common land in the 16th century, though it is the massive increase in these land grabs that are more famous. The need for open spaces took on and urgency when it was realised how unsanitary many of the towns were becoming, and one man became the leading light of the Commons Preservation Society in 1865, Lord Eversley, who became chairman at their first meeting. This is from Commons Forests & Footpaths by Lord Eversley:

“The simple idea which led to the battle over London Commons – that large towns required Open Spaces – has developed in many and varied directions. The attention drawn to the Commons as Open Spaces soon led to an examination of their economic value in rural districts, and this in turn to a consideration of the communal system on which the country was formerly cultivated and the advantage of retaining and fostering some collective interest in the soil of the country. On the other hand, the inestimable value of Commons for the recreation of crowded populations led to a desire to supply Open Spaces in the shape of Parks and Gardens where no Commons existed, and to a jealous guardianship of every bit of greenery to be found in a town, in the formation of Gardens out of disused churchyards, the opening of Square gardens. Subsequently a distinct movement fot the provision of Playing-fields arose; many adaptations of the Open Space idea followed, – the extension of Commons where they were felt to be too small and the opportunity of extension existed (for example, the several enlargements of Hampstead Heath, and the recovery of a large portion of the Hainault Forest as a companion to Epping Forest), the preservation of beautiful views, like that from Richmond Hill, and finally, the formation of Garden Cities and Suburbs. It is not suggested that the Commons and Footpaths Preservation Society is directly the author of all these movements, though it has played an active part in most of them. But it may be doubted whether the Kyrle Sociewty(which aims generally at bringing beauty home to the poor), the Metropolitan Public Gardens Association, or the National Trust, would have ome into existence so soon, or in quite the same way, had not the Commons Preservation Society insisted on the necessity of Open Spaces to secure the health of towns and the reasonable enjoyment of life by those who live in towns. And it may even be questioned whether Garden City and Garden Suburb – Letchworth, Bournville, Port Sunlight, Hampstead – would have yet been seen so soon, or would have attracted the same notice, had not Wimbledon Common and Epping Forest been fought for and rescued some 30 years ago. I short, the movement represented by the Commons and Footpaths Preservation Society may be said to be animated by two ideas- one, that the people of this country should have some interest in the land of the country, the other, that the amenities of everyday life should be placed within reach of rich and poor alike; and these ideas have found expression in many forms. “

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