A history of Landmark

Who we are and where we came from

Sir John Smith, founder of The Landmark Trust

Over 50 years ago the philanthropist John Smith founded The Landmark Trust together with his wife Christian. Their aim was to try and prevent the loss of the sort of smaller historic building with which neither the National Trust nor the Ministry of Works was concerned.

The Landmark Trust had its genesis in the Smith's dismay at the rate at which places were being damaged or destroyed in the 1960s. Historic buildings were falling faster than at any other moment in peacetime. Economic and social change, combined with the devastation of war, were a potent cocktail. The Euston Arch came down in 1961, British Railways called for the closure of a third of the country's 7,000 railways in 1963 and widespread slum clearance saw thousands of vernacular houses crumpled by the wrecking ball.

The Smiths were already active in the world of conservation. John Smith was an influential early exponent of the importance of industrial buildings and from his twenties had been closely involved with the National Trust. The demolition of Thomas Telford's Junction House on the Ellesmere Canal in the early 1960s was a turning point. "I began to realise," John Smith later recalled, "that there were certain buildings that fell, as it were, through the holes in the net." This sort of smaller or quirkier building sowed the idea of the Landmark Trust.

The demolition of Thomas Telford's Junction House on the Ellesmere Canal in the early 1960s sowed the idea of the Landmark Trust. Image credit: Canal and River Trust

Whether the notion would work at all was unclear at the beginning, as Christian Smith remembers: "When John was first thinking about setting up the Landmark Trust, he said to me: 'I've had an idea. If we were to restore historic buildings do you think people might stay in them?' I said, 'Yes I think they might.'

By deeds dated 24 May 1965, the Landmark Trust was created. It had two goals: 'the preservation of small buildings or structures of historic interest, architectural merit or amenity value, and where possible finding suitable uses for them' and 'protecting and promoting the enjoyment of places of historic or natural beauty.'

John concentrated on the architectural aspects of the buildings' rescue, while Christian determined their interior appearance, choosing colour schemes and overseeing the printing of specially-designed textiles to designs by the artist Jennifer Packer.

Lady Christian Smith screen-printing curtains for Wortham Manor

For the past 35 years, John Evetts has overseen the furnishing of each Landmark. From the early days, the interiors of our buildings were designed in-house, with a view to making them both welcoming and in harmony with the building. The furniture used in Landmark's buildings is generally a mixture of carefully chosen old pieces and new items we have either selected as appropriate, or created ourselves.

The interiors are designed to be elegant and simple - the pictures, printed textiles, furniture and decorative details are chosen to bring out the character of the building. "I don't want people to feel they have to tiptoe around, or that the decoration jars with the building," says furnishings manager John Evetts.

Church Cottage in Llandygwydd

The first Landmark to open was Church Cottage in Llandygwydd. In the five decades since, an extraordinary number of buildings have been rescued. They include the Gothic Temple at Stowe, Lord Dunmore's eccentric pineapple pavilion near Stirling, the world's first industrial housing in Derbyshire and an entire fort off Alderney in the Channel Islands.

The longevity of the enterprise delights Christian to this day: "I'm proud that even today, after all this time, people still want to stay in them."