Toynbee Hall

Coordinates: 51°30′58″N 0°4′21″W / 51.51611°N 0.07250°W / 51.51611; -0.07250
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Toynbee Hall
Named afterArnold Toynbee
Formation1884; 139 years ago (1884)
FounderHenrietta and Samuel Barnett
PurposeSocial reform
  • 28 Commercial Street, London, E1 6LS
Coordinates51°30′58″N 0°4′21″W / 51.51611°N 0.07250°W / 51.51611; -0.07250
Rebecca Sycamore
Stephen Burns
Samuel and Henrietta Barnett, founders of Toynbee Hall: a portrait by Hubert Herkomer

Toynbee Hall is a charitable institution that works to address the causes and impacts of poverty in the East End of London and elsewhere. Established in 1884, it is based in Commercial Street, Spitalfields, and was the first university-affiliated institution of the worldwide settlement movement—a reformist social agenda that strove to get the rich and poor to live more closely together in an interdependent community.[1] It was founded by Henrietta and Samuel Barnett in the economically depressed East End,[2] and was named in memory of their friend and fellow reformer, Oxford historian Arnold Toynbee, who had died the previous year.

Toynbee Hall continues to strive to bridge the gap between people of all social and financial backgrounds, with a focus on working towards a future without poverty.


Shortly after their marriage in 1873, Samuel Barnett and his wife, Henrietta, moved to the Whitechapel district of the East End of London.[3] Barnett was vicar of St Jude's church, where he saw poverty at first hand.[4] Late-Victorian Whitechapel was known for its overcrowded living spaces and high criminal activity.[5] In the area of Whitechapel alone, the mortality rate for children under the age of five was around 60% mostly due to the tight living conditions.[6] Charles Booth, another social reformer, mapped London according to eight different social classes, finding that around 70% of people living in the East End were in the lowest three classes.[7]

Map of Whitechapel from Charles Booth's Labour and Life of the People (1889). Residential buildings are coloured to represent the economic class of the occupants: Yellow (“Upper-middle and Upper classes, Wealthy”), red ("Lower middle class – Well-to-do middle class"), pink ("Fairly comfortable good ordinary earnings"), blue ("Intermittent or casual earnings"), and black ("lowest class...occasional labourers, street sellers, loafers, criminals and semi-criminals"). Toynbee Hall (not named) stands towards the southern end of Commercial Street.

Whitechapel was also a place where many different immigrants settled. The Great Famine of Ireland in the 19th century led to many Irish settling in Whitechapel. Also, many Jewish immigrants settled in Whitechapel after fleeing from persecution in Western Europe at the time.[8]

The Barnetts used their roles in the parish to improve the Whitechapel area. They built a church library, introduced art exhibits, brought university lecturers in, and took their parishioners on excursions to the homes of the wealthy and to universities. The Barnetts also tried to encourage officials to improve sanitation and housing and to build more playgrounds and washhouses.[6] However, the attempts the Barnetts made with the parish had little effect on the East End community as a whole. The parish did not reach everyone that lived in the East End. Many of the people did not involve themselves with the established church.[6] In an effort to improve the wellbeing of the community, Barnett had the idea of sharing knowledge and culture. His proposal was to have university students come as volunteers to share their knowledge: the students would be able to help the poor, and at the same time witness poverty at first hand, and potentially develop solutions for it.[4]

In 1883, Barnett gave a lecture at St John's College, Oxford to gain support for his idea. Barnett was able to gather enough support and a committee called the "University Settlement of East London" was set up by Oxford.[9] With these ideas and the support of universities, Barnett founded Toynbee Hall, the first settlement house in the world.[10] Named after another social reformer, Arnold Toynbee, Toynbee Hall first opened its doors on Christmas Eve in 1884.[11] Samuel Barnett was named as the first warden of the hall and Oxford and Cambridge university students came to work at the hall.[6]

By 1910 more settlement houses were founded in England in the areas of Manchester, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Dundee, Birmingham, Liverpool, and elsewhere in London; as well as in Holland, France, Germany, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Austria, and the United States.[4] In 1911 the leaders of the social settlement movement founded the National Federation of Settlements. One of the best known settlement houses that was inspired after a visit to Toynbee Hall is Hull House in Chicago, founded by Jane Addams and Ellen Gates Starr in 1889.[12]

Over time Toynbee Hall implemented many different educational community programmes. At its opening, Toynbee Hall introduced University Extension Society lectures. These lectures were taught by university professors. At the programme's peak, in the 1890s, classes were taught in over 134 topics including; literature, zoology, ethics, philosophy, etc.[13]: 117–19  In order to further promote education, 36 societies or clubs were created in different areas, such as, music, art, history, and science.[13] One of these societies was founded in 1889 and was called the "Toynbee Travellers". This group was created after a group of Toynbee Hall residents travelled to Belgium in 1887.[11] Toynbee Hall also began hosting Smoking Room Debates in which community members and invited speakers would come to debate issues of the day. This tradition continued for over twenty years. In 1899, the Poor Man's Lawyer service was introduced. This programme gives free legal services to those who can not afford it, and continues to the present day.[11]

The settlement movement[edit]

An East End street in 1902 (Dorset Street, Spitalfields), photographed for Jack London's book The People of the Abyss

The international settlement movement began at Toynbee Hall, where a community centre was formed that attracted university students who wished to live or "settle" among the underprivileged in London's economically depressed East End.[14] They came, according to Samuel Barnett, "to learn, as much as to teach, to receive as much as to give".[2]: 377  As at most settlement houses, its social workers—students from Oxford and Cambridge Universities, among others—resided at Toynbee Hall and sought thereby to get to know their neighbors and their needs on a more intimate, personal level.[15]

Toynbee Hall rejected the concept of a community centre as a location for Christian proselytising—as seen in the efforts of the Salvation Army. This principle is reflected in the decision to name it after the social reformer, Arnold Toynbee, who had died in 1883, aged 30. As Henrietta Barnett explained, the name would be "free from every possible savor of a mission."[16]

From the beginning, it was non-sectarian and welcomed people of all faiths, despite having been founded by a Church of England cleric.[2] It saw its purpose as more educational than charitable, in a missionary sense. Gertrude Himmelfarb lists some of the activities offered by Toynbee Hall in a typical month: "evening classes on arithmetic, writing, drawing, citizenship, chemistry, nursing, and music (...); afternoon classes for girls on dressmaking, writing and composition, geography, bookkeeping, needlework, hygiene, reading and recitation, French, singing, cooking, and swimming; and evening sessions devoted to the discussion of legal principles and current social issues".[2]: 378 

By 1900 there were over 100 settlements in the United States and across the UK,[17] and in 1911 the leaders of the social settlement movement founded the National Federation of Settlements.[18]

Current activity[edit]

Today, Toynbee Hall provides a range of programmes and activities, broadly broken down into: youth, the elderly, financial inclusion, debt, advice, free legal advice and community engagement.[14]

Each year over 400 volunteers help to deliver the charity's services.

In 2006 Toynbee Hall launched Capitalise, a pan-London free debt advice service to support 20,000 people a year with their money worries. In April 2019 this service was rebranded as Debt Free London.[19]

In 2007 the Toynbee Studios opened in part of the building offering dance and media studios and a theatre.


Toynbee Hall, the original building that houses the organisation of the same name, is located in Commercial Street, Spitalfields, in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets. It was designed by Elijah Hoole in a Tudor-Gothic style, and was formally opened in January 1885.[20] It was built on the site of a disused industrial school, and adjacent to the church of St Jude (built in 1845–46, but demolished in 1927).[21] It was designated a Grade II listed building in 1973.[22] The front of the building bears a Greater London Council blue plaque, erected in 1984, commemorating Jimmy Mallon, warden 1919–54.

Since its foundation, the charity has expanded from the original building into a number of extensions and other neighbouring buildings.[23]



Chair of trustees[edit]

Notable associated people[edit]

  • Toynbee residents included R. H. Tawney and Clement Attlee.
  • William Beveridge began his career by working as Sub-Warden at Toynbee Hall from 1903 to 1905.
  • Visitors to Toynbee Hall included Lenin and Guglielmo Marconi. The latter made the first public presentation of his wireless invention in Toynbee Hall on December 12, 1896.[40]
  • Lionel Ellis (1885–1970), the military historian, was an Associate Warden of Toynbee Hall after the Second World War.[41] Between the two World Wars, he had been General Secretary of the National Council of Social Service and then Secretary of the National Fitness Council.
  • John Profumo dedicated much of his time to the Hall from the 1960s onwards after the Profumo affair forced him out of politics.
  • Social reformers from the United States, such as Jane Addams and Gaylord Starin White, visited Toynbee Hall, which inspired their work to establish Hull House in Chicago and Union Settlement in New York City, respectively.
  • Sir Nicolas Bratza, was a volunteer at Toynbee Hall's Free Legal Advice Centre in the 1970s. He went on to become the President of the European Court of Human Rights from November 2011 to October 2012. In 2014, Sir Nicolas became an Ambassador for Toynbee Hall.
  • Marie-Jeanne Bassot visited Hull House, which inspired her establishment of la Résidence sociale in Levallois-Perret (France).

Associated organisations[edit]


  1. ^ Chapin, Henry Dwight (28 October 1894). "Work for the poor in London". New York Times. p. 20. Archived from the original on 8 November 2021. Retrieved 9 April 2019.
  2. ^ a b c d Himmelfarb, Gertrude (1990). "Victorian Philanthropy: The Case of Toynbee Hall". The American Scholar. 59 (3): 373–384. ISSN 0003-0937. JSTOR 41211806.
  3. ^ Canon and Mrs. S.A. Barnett (1909) The Beginning of Toynbee Hall
  4. ^ a b c Ellis, Lionel F. (1948). "Toynbee Hall and the University Settlements". Journal of the Royal Society of Arts. 96 (4762): 167–178. ISSN 0035-9114. JSTOR 41363547.
  5. ^ Kosky, April (5 April 2018). "Toynbee Hall, reducing poverty in Tower Hamlets". Roman Road LDN. Archived from the original on 18 February 2020. Retrieved 18 February 2020.
  6. ^ a b c d Abel, Emily K. (1969). Canon Barnett and the first thirty years of Toynbee Hall (PhD thesis). Archived from the original on 19 February 2020. Retrieved 28 February 2020.
  7. ^ Walkowitz, Judith R. (1992). City of Dreadful Delight: Narratives of Sexual Danger in Late-Victorian London. University of Chicago Press. ISBN 978-0-226-08101-4. Archived from the original on 8 November 2021. Retrieved 28 February 2020.
  8. ^ "Whitechapel". BBC America. Archived from the original on 18 February 2020. Retrieved 18 February 2020.
  9. ^ Picht, Werner (1914). Toynbee Hall and the English Settlement Movement. London: G. Bell and Sons. pp. 26–28.
  10. ^ Till, Jo. "Icons of Toynbee Hall: Samuel Barnett" (PDF). Toynbee Hall. Archived (PDF) from the original on 19 February 2020. Retrieved 28 February 2020.
  11. ^ a b c "The History of Toynbee Hall – A Timeline". Toynbee Hall. Archived from the original on 18 September 2020. Retrieved 19 February 2020.
  12. ^ Reinders, Robert C. (March 1982). "Toynbee Hall and the American Settlement Movement". Social Service Review. 56 (1): 42. doi:10.1086/643979. JSTOR 30011537. S2CID 143472226.
  13. ^ a b Evans, R. A. (1982). "The University and the City: the educational work of Toynbee Hall, 1884–1914". History of Education. 11 (2): 113–125. doi:10.1080/0046760820110204. ISSN 0046-760X.
  14. ^ a b "About us". Toynbee Hall. 3 November 2019. Archived from the original on 3 November 2019. Retrieved 3 November 2019.
  15. ^ Article in the 'University Review' 919050, quoted in H. O. Barnett, op. cit., p.311
  16. ^ Holden, Arthur Cort (1922). The Settlement Idea: A Vision of Social Justice. New York: Macmillan. p. 12. Archived from the original on 8 November 2021. Retrieved 14 February 2021.
  17. ^ National Federation of Settlements Archived 13 August 2014 at the Wayback Machine accessed 10 July 2013
  18. ^ Social Welfare History website.[permanent dead link]
  19. ^ "LONDON'S DEBT ADVICE PARTNERSHIP RELAUNCHES AS DEBT FREE LONDON TO HELP MORE LONDONERS OUT OF DEBT". Debt Free London. Archived from the original on 8 November 2021. Retrieved 28 September 2020.
  20. ^ Briggs and Macartney 1984, pp. 1, 22–23.
  21. ^ Stewart Angas Weaver (1997). The Hammonds: A Marriage in History. Stanford University Press. p. 33. ISBN 978-0-8047-3242-0.
  22. ^ Historic England. "Toynbee Hall (Grade II) (1065201)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 15 April 2020.
  23. ^ Caunce, Andrew. "The Buildings of Toynbee Hall". Toynbee Hall. Archived from the original on 18 September 2020. Retrieved 29 April 2020.
  24. ^ Koven, Seth (2008) [2004]. "Barnett, Samuel Augustus (1844–1913)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/30612. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  25. ^ Hope Hay Hewison (1989). Hedge of Wild Almonds: South Africa, the Pro-Boers & the Quaker Conscience, 1890–1910. James Currey Publishers. p. 373. ISBN 978-0-85255-031-1. Archived from the original on 15 February 2017. Retrieved 9 October 2016.
  26. ^ The Annual Monitor for 1919-20 being an obituary of members of the Society of Friends, Headley Bros, 1920 p 168-177
  27. ^ Briggs, Asa (2011) [2004]. "Mallon, James Joseph (1874–1961)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/34846. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  28. ^ Stanley Brice Frost (1 May 1984). McGill University: For the Advancement of Learning, Volume II, 1895–1971. McGill-Queen's Press – MQUP. pp. 209 note 14. ISBN 978-0-7735-6094-9. Archived from the original on 15 February 2017. Retrieved 9 October 2016.
  29. ^ a b Toynbee Hall Annual Report 1964 Archived 15 February 2020 at the Wayback Machine p.19 'Postscript' by 'W.B.B.' (Walter Birmingham), accessed 15 February 2020
  30. ^ Moonman, Eric (6 September 2004). "Obituary: Walter Birmingham". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 7 April 2014. Retrieved 2 April 2014.
  31. ^ "Who Was Who, Oxford Index". Archived from the original on 7 April 2014. Retrieved 2 April 2014.
  32. ^ Gerald Grace (17 June 2013). Education and the City: Theory, History and Contemporary Practice. Routledge. p. 146. ISBN 978-1-135-66876-1. Archived from the original on 4 July 2014. Retrieved 9 October 2016.
  33. ^ Washbrook, David. "Elliott, Charles Alfred". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/33004. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  34. ^ Katherine Bentley Beauman (15 September 1996). Women and the Settlement Movement. The Radcliffe Press. pp. 199–. ISBN 978-1-86064-129-9. Archived from the original on 4 July 2014. Retrieved 9 October 2016.
  35. ^ Briggs and Macartney 1984, p. 155.
  36. ^ Heffer, Simon (2017) [2013]. "Profumo, John Dennis [Jack] (1915–2006)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/97107. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  37. ^, Board of Directors. Archived 7 April 2014 at the Wayback Machine
  38. ^ ", Trustees". Archived from the original on 23 February 2014. Retrieved 2 April 2014.
  39. ^ ", Stephen Burns appointed new Chair of Trustees at Toynbee Hall". Retrieved 18 February 2022.
  40. ^ Larson, Erik (2006). Thunderstruck. New York: Crown Publishers. ISBN 978-1-4000-8066-3. OCLC 67392598. Archived from the original on 8 November 2021. Retrieved 3 October 2021.
  41. ^ Social Service: A Quarterly Review, Volumes 27–28 (1953), p. 1: "For the Well-Being of Mankind, Lionel F. Ellis, C.V.O., C.B.E., D.S.O. Associate Warden, Toynbee Hall".

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

51°30′58″N 0°4′21″W / 51.51611°N 0.07250°W / 51.51611; -0.07250