Octavia Hill’s Birthplace Museum
Sutton Bridge U3A Local History Group Visit to Octavia Hill’s Birthplace Museum, Wisbech
On 22nd October 2018, twenty-four members visited Octavia Hill’s Birthplace Museum, South Brink, Wisbech, and afterwards certainly realised what an
important and lasting impact Octavia Hill had on the welfare of those living in the shocking slums of many cities, especially London, during the latter half of the nineteenth century. Being known mainly as a co-founder of the National Trust, she did so much more during her life, believing that every person, regardless of being born rich or poor, should have access to the arts and open spaces.
Whilst still a child, her father’s bankruptcy caused the family to move to London where Octavia was shocked by the grim poverty of urban living. She was influenced by her maternal grandfather who campaigned for public health reform in cities, and met other reformers of her day, including John Ruskin.
The museum has recreated the dark cramped and atrocious living conditions experienced by poor Victorians of the time, where disease, starvation and crime were a daily occurrence. Emerging from this into the daylight of the small garden to hear the soothing sound of running water and see the greenery and bright colours of shrubs and flowers, made us realise how even a tiny walled garden open to the sky enhances a person’s feeling of well-being.
Touch screen displays in other rooms inform you of places and people involved with Octavia during her lifetime. She advocated the Green Belt around towns and cities, communal facilities such as meeting halls, responsible housing management by both landlord and tenant, and founded the Army Cadet Force.
Her most famed achievement is, of course, as one of three co-founders of the National Trust, and to mark the centenary of this in 1995, a new variety of rose, "Octavia Hill", was named in her honour. She was born in 1838 and died in 1912.
Our visit concluded with welcome refreshments served in the museum’s tea shop, when thanks were expressed to the staff involved with our visit. All the museum staff are volunteers and without them giving up some of their free time to be there, it would not be possible for the museum to open to the public to learn about the life of one of England’s foremost social reformers, particularly for the urban poor. She was way ahead of her time in many things, with her legacy being that much town planning and social amenities today are based on her ideas for a healthier happy population, including in many countries outside the UK.