The Pilgrim Trust: A History of a "salvage corps" and its Efforts to Preserve the Image of the Nation during Britain's Mid-Twentieth Century
To know the history of the Pilgrim Trust is to also know Britain’s response to several of its greatest challenges of the twentieth century. Still in operation today, the Pilgrim Trust directly engaged at both national and local levels with some of the major events that we consider to define modern Britain, namely the unemployment of the 1930s, the Second World War, and the debate concerning the national character. As a charity it is perhaps most well-known for sponsoring the unemployment study Men Without Work, funding the Arts Council of Great Britain’s predecessor the Council for the Encouragement of Music and the Arts, and assisting in the preservation of some of the country’s most iconic architecture through restorations and pictorial records such as the Recording Britain series. However, a close reading of the Trust’s archive reveals a much more complex and intriguing history of an association of elite men operating at the highest national level with ample funds attempting to come to the “rescue of the things that mattered in our country” as a self-defined “salvage corps.” This thesis is not solely a history of a charity from 1930 to 1960, but also a case study for social and cultural histories of Britain. It examines how the charity interacted with consequential debates on matters such as charity law, unemployment relief, the voluntary sector in the welfare state, church and state relations, national character, and modernity. It also situates the Pilgrim Trust within the larger historiography on community, citizenship, nation, welfare, and heritage to argue that the Pilgrim Trust was an invisible hand in promoting an insular, rural, and nostalgic image of Britain as stewards of the nation.