The Gentry is a history of England told through its families. This website contains family trees, a few maps and many images illustrating some of the background to the twelve families who carry the story of England in the book.

Read a sample chapter about Sir John Oglander, the 17th-century squire of Nunwell in the Isle of Wight, his life and family, his dreams and ambitions and the tragedies that struck him....

1890s–1950s The Aclands, Devon and Somerset

The Aclands

Nine Aclands had been Members of Parliament over three centuries, several of them distinguished ministers in Victorian Liberal governments. When in 1939 Sir Richard Acland, 15th baronet, suddenly inherited the huge Acland estates (which were said at one stage, never quite correctly, to stretch unbroken from the Bristol to the English Channel) he came to a realization.

Britain was a wickedly unfair society, in which ‘1½ per cent of our population are drawing one quarter of the national income’. It was a world built on selfishness, riddled with inequality, envy, malice, greed and strife. There was one thing which lay at the root of all this pain: the private ownership of property. ‘Every fifty years, at the year of the Jubilee, which Jesus upheld, the land was reapportioned to the families, no matter who might have acquired it in the meantime.’ That was the model which Britain now had to follow: ‘There is no ultimate reconciliation except in a system of common ownership.’

With this as the foundation of his political programme, Acland embarked, mid-war, on changing the culture of England. He needed money for his campaign, he could no longer be a landowner on a vast scale and so the answer was obvious: sell the estates he inherited. He did so, to the National Trust, while to the world at large portraying this act of renunciation as a gesture of sublime altruism.