150th anniversary of midnight raid to free Berkhamsted Common2 min read

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The National Trust is celebrating the 150th anniversary of the great battle to save Berkhamsted Common, Herts.  The common was freed from enclosure on the night of 6 March 1866.

The National Trust is staging an exhibition and commemorative walk on its Ashridge Estate.  The exhibition opens on Saturday 10 October at the visitor centre and runs until 31 March 2016, admission free.

The Open Spaces Society, then the Commons Preservation Society, had been founded only the year before Lord Brownlow erected three miles of iron fencing, six feet high, around part of Berkhamsted Common.  The society organised a trainload of navvies (tough men) to walk from Tring Station to the common in the middle of the night to fell the fencing.

The common was never enclosed again and, 60 years later in 1926, it was acquired by the National Trust, which had been founded by the Open Spaces Society in 1895.

Where the fencing was felled on Berkhamsted Common on the night of 6 March 1866

Where the fencing was felled on Berkhamsted Common on the night of 6 March 1866

 

The National Trust’s exhibition tells the story of the moonlit raid to rescue the common from enclosure and privatisation.

Iron railings found on the common, on display at the exhibition. Is this a piece of the fencing which the navvies felled?

Iron railings found on the common, on display at the exhibition. Is this a piece of the fencing which the navvies felled?

Says Kate Ashbrook, our general secretary: ‘We are delighted that the National Trust is celebrating this momentous victory.  We have a joint history of fighting for commons which are so important to people today, starting 150 years ago with the foundation of the Open Spaces Society and the colourful Berkhamsted battle.

‘The lovely Berkhamsted Common and Ashridge Estate are a fine model of the achievements of the National Trust over the years.  But our histories are intertwined: after the Open Spaces Society founded the National Trust we raised money to buy threatened land and give it to the trust to own and manage.

‘It is thanks to both organisations that there are so many splendid open spaces for people to enjoy today,’ Kate concludes.

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The National Trust’s Ashridge Estate commemorations include:

Temporary exhibition at the Ashridge Estate Visitor Centre telling the story of Berkhamsted Common from ancient times to the present day. Open every day from 10 October 2015 to 31 March 2016. Free

Special way-marked commemorative walk from Dick’s Camp car park on the B4506 (just south of the Aldbury turning) following the route of Lord Brownlow’s enclosure. Leaflet available showing 6km and 3.5km route available from the visitor centre or downloadable from the website.

Celebratory guided walk led by National Trust ranger Emily Smith and archaeologist Gary Marshall with the Open Spaces Society, followed by barbeque.  Sunday 6 March 2016.

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