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A Noble Thing

The National Trust and its Benefactors

Merlin Waterson

ISBN: 978 1 85759 669 4
Size: 255 x 195 mm / 7.5 x 10 in.
Binding: hardback
Pages: 336
Images: 200

UK £39.95 / US $70.00


  • First in-depth study of what motivated the individuals who donated to the National Trust some of its greatest properties
  • Engaging and insightful account by a key National Trust insider who knew personally many of those he writes about
  • Includes rare and historic illustrations as well as some of the finest photographs from the National Trust's own archives


During the 20th century, there was an unprecedented and largely unforeseen transfer of property in Britain from private ownership into the hands of a single charitable institution, the National Trust. In 1945, the Trust owned 112,000 acres and had a membership of 7,850. By 2007 it had a membership of 3.5 million and the area of land that it owned had increased more than fivefold. Only relatively recently has the significance of this transfer begun to attract the serious interest of political and social historians. The National Trust and its donors have tended to be diffident about their generosity. Merlin Waterson’s new book, accompanied throughout by rare and unusual illustrations, sheds new light on the motives of some of the Trust’s most important donors. Through an eclectic and colourful series of portraits, he investigates what motivated the owners of these precious possessions – historic buildings, large estates, great works of art and treasured artefacts – to give them away.


Merlin Waterson worked for over thirty years for the National Trust, latterly as Director of Historic Properties, and was involved in the accquisition of many of the properties he writes about. He was awarded the CBE in 2005.


"This charming, enjoyable book is a parade of all the interesting people who gave liberally to the National Trust"
Country Life

"The author has an eye for the scandalous titbit and the amusing aside; this book is never, ever, dry"
Eastern Daily Press

"This fascinating book is about some of the many twentieth-century benefactors of the National Trust… The cast is a delightful mixture"
Historic Houses

"Eminently readable"
Times Literary Supplement

"You will find few sociological studies as pleasant to read, and good to look at, as this one, and few that tell you quite as much about what a strange country England is, and how that strangeness reliably begets such great beauty"
World of Interiors