William Beveridge: A Biography

By Jose Harris | Go to book overview

4
TOYNBEE HALL Samuel Barnett and Social Reform

I

THE Universities' Settlement in East London had been founded at Toynbee Hall by a group of dons and clergymen in 1884. Located at 28 Commercial Street, Whitechapel, Toynbee Hall in the 1880s was centrally poised between two worlds. The immediate neighbourhood of Whitechapel was a wilderness of crowded tenements, common lodging-houses, crumbling warehouses, and workshops for sweated labour. Its crime rate and infant mortality rate were the highest in London. A third of its labour force was casually employed, and over 40 per cent of its population lived below Charles Booth's definition of subsistence level. Yet a mile to the north of Whitechapel lay the prosperous new suburbs of Hackney and Islington; fifteen minutes' walk to the west brought one to the greatest financial centre in the world; and along its southern boundaries flowed the commercial history of the nineteenth century 1

It was to bridge the gulf between these two worlds that the founders of Toynbee Hall first thought of establishing a settlement, as a place where professional men could live among the poor -- not as missionaries but as neighbours and friends. The underlying philosophy of the settlement was derived from various sources -- from Octavia Hill's desire to 'elevate' the lives of the poor, from Matthew Arnold's belief in the civilizing power of 'culture', from T. H. Green's doctrine of 'personal service', and from the Christian socialist emphasis on 'social reconciliation'. Its practical objectives were originally threefold; to spread education and culture, to discover facts about social problems, and to enable middle-class people to establish personal relationships with members of the working class 2

In pursuit of these aims, young men from many different professions -- civil servants, lawyers, doctors, and clergymen -- were attracted to Toynbee Hall; and in the 1890s many other settlements were founded on the Toynbee model

____________________
1
Toynbee Hall, Twenty-First Annual Report ( 1904-5), pp. 11-18. The fullest account of the early history of Toynbee is E. K. Abel, 'Canon Barnett and the First Thirty Years of Toynbee Hall' (unpublished London Ph.D. thesis, 1969).
2
Abel, op. cit., pp. 95-105.

-79-

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