An East End Layman Writes

On Monday the 9th of June 1884, The London Evening Standard published the following letter from an “East End  Layman, concerning the University settlements of East London of the type being operated by the likes of the Reverend and Mrs. Barnnett at the Toynbee Hall settlement:-



May I be permitted to corroborate the opinion expressed by a “West-end Layman” in your issue of today, that the idea of a settlement in East London of gentlemen from the West-end is by no means impracticable?

That the working of a scheme of this nature is open to considerable difficulty cannot be denied, but that it may be not only a success, but a great feature in the future of our East-end work, is plain to those who have had any experience of life in East London.


One thing, however, is clear, and must be borne in mind if the movement is in any measure to succeed, and that is, that there must be an organised system, with an acknowledged head – in other words, that the men who wish to work must be content to be the rank and file, so to speak, obeying orders, and ready to carry out to the best of their ability the work allotted to them.

In these days there is too much independence in such matters, and there are so many differences of opinion that we run great danger of showing a divided front to the enemy, and so doing little or no good.


What I would suggest is that men should select the locality of their work, choosing those parishes where they find they could put themselves under the clergy and work with them.

There are in the East-end clergymen of all views and shades of opinion; there would be little or no difficulty in ascertaining by personal intercourse the views and methods of the working of any particular clergyman; and it is quite certain that there are numbers of energetic, earnest men, full of love and zeal, who could not work under some clergymen, but who could under others.

Let them select the man with whom they think they could work the best.

In this way, and in this way only, can we hope to attain that unity in which alone lies our strength.


One word more.

There are some who are looking to this movement as one which will raise the working classes to a higher level.

Men with a good education and refined manners are to exercise a refining influence over the masses of ignorant and sin-loving people who surround them: and this may be so, for “a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump;” but we shall need great care and caution.

Patronage is a thing which the working man will not stand; at the same time, he is a working man, and he wishes to be nothing more.

As a rule, he recognises his position socially, and he does not set up to be anything more than he is.


What we have to do is, not to raise his social status, but his moral and spiritual being; what we have to cultivate is not primarily his mind, but his soul.

And, in striving to do this, we need not lose sight of – indeed, we shall of necessity teach – that great lesson which we all need to learn, of the universal brotherhood of man.

I am, Sir, your obedient servant,


You can watch more about the history of the Victorian East End on our YouTube channel. Here you will find the videos, not just about the Jack the Ripper crimes, but also about the social history of the district.