About our repository

This image archive comprises digitised versions of a collection of lantern slides which date from between 1900 and 1939. The majority of the images are of the commons, forests, parks and open spaces which the society campaigned to save in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Lantern slides were a useful way of illustrating talks and lectures and will have been used to support the case made by the society seeking protection for the open spaces. The collection provides an insight into the activities of the society at this time which have resulted in some amazing landscapes protected to this day.

Many of the slides feature scenes from the South East of England as at that time the society was concerned with preserving commons on the edge of London, many of which exist as greenbelt now.

The Open Spaces Society was founded in 1865 as the Commons Preservation Society. It is Britain’s oldest national conservation body. Its founders and early members included John Stuart Mill, Lord Eversley, Sir Robert Hunter and Octavia Hill. The last two founded the National Trust in 1895 along with Canon Rawnsley.

Lord Eversley, as George Lefevre, was a Liberal MP and became a junior minister at the Board of Trade in Gladstone’s government. He held a variety of posts including Commissioner of Works. He opened Hampton Court Park, Kew Gardens and Regent’s Park to the public.

Over the last century the society has preserved commons for the enjoyment of the public. It has also been active in protecting the historical and vital rights-of-way network through England and Wales.

The society has shared its collection of 19th century legal case papers and around a thousand lantern transparencies of English landscapes from around 1900-40 with The Museum of English Rural Life (The MERL).

A handlist for the whole collection held by The MERL can be found here.

The MERL have also compiled a History of the Open Spaces Society available as an online exhibition.

Browse a sample of the image collection

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