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Mr Mary Jennifer Jenkins

Dame Jennifer Jenkins has had long-standing involvement in the conservation of buildings and landscape.

As Chairman of the Historic Buildings Council for England from 1975 to 1984, she helped to organise the recording of parks and gardens which led to the publication of the English Heritage Register of Parks and Gardens of Special Historic Interest in England in 1984.

Lady Jenkins was Chairman of the National Trust from 1986 to 1990, and President of the Ancient Monuments Society since 1985.

She oversaw the addition to its estates of well over 50 villages and hamlets and half the coastline of Britain, including the white cliffs of Dover (handed over in 1988 at a ceremony on the cliff-top). She reactivated the Neptune campaign, an effort to protect the coastline of Britain, ensured a greater involvement of members in the running of the trust, and brought more smaller houses into the fold – which negated the image of the trust as concerned only with the big and the grand.

By the time she left the National Trust chairmanship, in 1990, it was in the middle of one of the biggest controversies to affect that organisation. This was over the use of its land for hunting and shooting. In the face of widespread opposition to that use, she tried to calm the waters. Asked her personal opinion on the issue, an anti-hunting stance might have been expected. But realising this would split the National Trust, she said only: “I do not hunt, I do not shoot” – and left it there. She took the view that the trust should leave it to country dwellers’ consciences until hunting was made illegal by parliament.

After her departure, she was accused of personally casting 50,000 proxy votes in opposition to stopping the use of National Trust land for killing animals as sport. Defending herself, she pointed out that proxy votes were cast by the chair on the basis decided by the council, not at her own whim. She was no dud at procedural politics.

Born Jennifer Morris in Buxton, Derbyshire, she was the daughter of Sir Parker Morris, the Westminster town clerk who drew up standard specifications for council houses, and Dorothy Aylmer, a reporter on the Manchester Guardian. Her early years were spent at her parents’ home in Hampstead Garden Suburb, London. She attended St Mary’s School, Calne, and studied history at Girton College, Cambridge, where she was chair of Cambridge University Labour Club.

She married Roy Jenkins, then a rising Labour politician, in 1945, when she was working at the Ministry of Labour. They had two sons and a daughter, and he embarked on a career that saw him become home secretary, chancellor of the exchequer, president of the European commission, leader of the Social Democratic party, and leader of the Liberal Democrats in the House of Lords.

In 1949 she went back to work and spent six years as a part-time teacher at Kingsway day college in London. Henceforward she was always engaged in voluntary work, mostly connected with individual and consumer rights.

Jennifer Jenkins with her husband Roy Jenkins, then chancellor of the exchequer, leaving 11 Downing Street on budget day, 1970
Jennifer Jenkins with her husband Roy Jenkins, then chancellor of the exchequer, leaving 11 Downing Street on budget day, 1970. Photograph: Harry Dempster/Getty Images

In 1965 she became chairman of the Consumers’ Association, a job she held for 11 years. She teamed up with Peter Goldman, who had been appointed director two years previously, and between them they diversified the range of commercial products and services that were analysed and compared by the association.

After a period as a member of the executive board of the British Standards Institution(1970-73), and the Design Council (1971-74), in 1975 she went to the Historic Buildings Council for England. Membership of the committee of management of the Courtauld Institute (1981-84) and the Ancient Monuments Board (1982-84) followed. Formerly secretary to the Historic Buildings Commission, she later served as its president (1984-85). She was a London juvenile court magistrate and a director of both Sainsbury’s and the Abbey National building society. In 1985 she was appointed DBE for services to ancient and historical buildings.

Jenkins could not always deflect controversy over the National Trust’s social attitudes, which were seen by some critics as a prop to the land-owning classes rather than as a force for securing more of the country’s land and buildings for the people. She had always considered the goodwill of landowners vital to the success of the trust, yet after her period as chair, she admitted to regrets that she had not been able to open up more footpaths on agricultural estates. She was a reforming rather than revolutionary chairman.

Roy died in 2003. She is survived by their sons, Charles and Edward, their daughter, Cynthia, four grandsons, three granddaughters and two great-grandsons.