House played a vital role in international conservation – The Firs, Beacon Rd West End

House played a vital role in international conservation

A house occupied by only three families since it was built 136 years ago – and had an important role in the development of world tree preservation – is looking for new owners.

Appropriately named The Firs, the property in Beacon Road, West End, Southampton, was built in 1880 for John St Barbe Baker, a lay minister. But his son, Richard, brought the house to world prominence as it was from here that he ran The Men of The Trees Society, founded 92 years ago next month. It has since become the International Tree Foundation with the aim of undertaking non-political, worldwide tree conservation.

It is widely held that Baker, who sold the house in 1959, was far ahead of his time in connecting trees and the survival of the planet – many of the seedlings he grew were nurtured in the garden at West End. Other evidence of his skill includes the concrete base in the front garden of the revolving summer house he built for his mother when he was only 12 and already dextrous in the use of woodworking tools.

The drawing room, added with the room above when he was only four years old, was where he did his writing but even in his father’s day prominent visitors were not unknown, including the Rev Melville Churchill, cousin of Sir Winston, who used to journey on foot from Bishops Waltham every month. William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army, also joined theological discussion there.

Since Richard St Barbe Baker emigrated to New Zealand in 1959, only two families, including the current owners, have lived at The Firs, which with its double ground floor bays flanking a glass roofed canopy for the front door and the orangery to one side…