Whoever planned the memorial service to Octavia Hill in Westminster Abbey last week did a fine job: traditional hymns, a beautifully printed service sheet and a reading from Hill’s Space for the People that brought tears to the eyes. ‘Our lives in London are over-crowded, over-excited, over-strained. We all want beauty for the refreshment of our souls.’ Those words should be put up in the Tube.
There were some false notes. Why did the National Trust give this broadcaster and rambler Julia Bradbury its People’s Champion Octavia Hill Award? I could name 100 people’s champions who more deserve the award for voluntary work in the countryside. None of them are on television.
Dame Fiona Reynolds, the retiring director-general, praised the right to roam. As the closing Paean by Herbert Howells shook the floor, it felt a little as if the Trust was being rebranded as a left-wing pressure group, with Hill appropriated as founding saint. Better not look too closely at the views she herself held.
The social reformer had no truck with a State pension or votes for women, which hardly makes her a poster girl for the modern Left. Neverthe-less, Hill’s legacy is one we can all enjoy.
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