Hopes For East London

Toynbee Hall, on Commercial Street, was an integral part of everyday life in the East End of London at the time of the Jack the Ripper murders.

It had been founded in 1884, by the Reverend Samuel Barnett and his wife, Henrietta, as part of the Univerity Settlement movement, which aimed to encourage wealthier and educated men and women to settle in the more poverty-stricken areas and thus encourage a mutually beneficial relationship, as well as a better understanding, between the rich and the poor.

It was members of the Toynbee Hall Settlement who, in the wake of the murder of Martha Tabram, set up the first of the area’s Vigilance patrols; the St Jude’s Vigilance Committee, which appointed 12 men to act as “watchers” of certain East End Streets, between the hours of 11am and 1pm each night.

However, the work of the settlement continued long after the end of the ripper murders.


The East London Observer, on Saturday, 12th January, 1895, published the following article about the annual report of the Settlement, which had been written by its warden Canon Samuel Barnett:-

“Some account of the work carried on at Toynbee Hall month by month is obtainable in the little magazine, which is issued under the appropriate title of the Record.

But this is generally presented in detail form, and though useful as giving a good idea of the operations for which the little band of University men residents make themselves responsible, yet hardly makes clear the principle which underlies the work of the Settlement, and the goal to which it is aiming.

That its true raison d’ etre may be adequately shown forth requires some such account as that which is issued every year from the pen of Canon Barnett, the Warden.

An illustration showing Samuel Barnett.
Samuel Barnett.


The annual report for 1894, which is before us, and which is the tenth of its kind, tells us as usual, in the Warden’s piquant style, the more general drift and policy of the common work, and affords some illustration of its usefulness and real value.

Canon Barnett first, in brief outline, gives a sketch of the year’s doings, and mentions the part taken by the Settlement in local government, trade and labour, and alludes to the conferences, clubs, exhibitions, societies, entertainments and parties, and to the students’ residences, University extension, education, scholarships, students’ free library, &c.


Attempting to distinguish what seems to be the dominant tendency of the period, the writer says:- “I recognise a closer relation growing up between ourselves and local government.

The social unrest of the last ten years, which took form in bitter cries, Royal Commissions, and social schemes, seems now to be settling down to a steady demand for better local administration.”

Canon Barnett’s belief in the elevating and regenerating power possessed by the local bodies seems to be unlimited.


He makes the following statement, which will prove a startling one to those who look for the amelioration of the lot of the masses mainly in religious and philanthropic effort.

“Local Government,” he says, “can do more to improve social conditions than is done by all the churches, missionaries, and societies put together.”

He adds, “it takes charge of more orphans, nurses more of the sick, educates more children, and trains more adults.”

The Warden makes no reservation as to what opinions, municipal, political, social, or religious, those who act as local administrators must possess to achieve the great results he indicates; he does not say that they shall be Progressives or Moderates, but he paints this picture as the dream of those who put their trust in Boards and Councils “animated by the public spirit.”

They see how, under such a government, the infirmary may become a hospital with its trained nurses and gentle visitors, how the workhouse, ceasing to be an ill-managed prison, and the casual ward, ceasing to be a dungeon, may become, instead, places of training for the unwilling and unfortunate; how relief may be given, not just to keep the poor quiet, or in response to a passing feeling, but according to well-thought-out principles; how the sick may be treated with the best skill and cure.

They see how the children, no longer quarrelled over by rival religious or educational theorists, may be taught to think, to work, and to love; how the dirty streets and dirty houses may be made clean, the air cleared of smoke, spaces made open and attractive, and libraries provided freely and frequently.”


Canon Barnett continues:- “Rude facts, however, shake the dreamer who dreams of such things in East London. Here good government seems to be hopeless.

An East London area is an organ in the great body of London, it is not a complete organism.

Its unleisured population has not the variety necessity fur unity.

Few of its inhabitants have the time to attend Board meetings, to visit schools and hospitals, and personally to inspect abuses.


It is sometimes said that East London is inhabited by those who are about to leave it, or by those who have failed to leave it. The former feel that they have here no continuing city, the latter have not the energy to be interested in improving their surroundings.”

For these reasons, Canon Barnett thinks East London is just the place for a University Settlement, and that, he remarks, is the reason why a closer connection is being formed between Toynbee Hall and local affairs.

He gladly recognises the development of good feeling between the residents and the people of the neighbourhood.

This has, he points out, some direct results:-

Toynbee Hall has more to do with Local Government.


The men who go to the clubs find themselves talking to the members of the changes which might be wrought for the good and happiness of others if Boards and Councils did their duty. These clubs at election times become centres of agitation on the side of honesty and progress.

Those who concern themselves with the relief of the poor find themselves making more and more use of the Boards of Guardians, looking to the Boards to do things they cannot do, hoping that the Boards may rise to do what is necessary.

Those who have spent their strength in drawing together students and building up a centre of higher education year by year influence those students to think about social reform. They start classes on the duties of citizens, they form societies fur the study of social questions, they invite students to take part in elections.


The educational side of the place, therefore, does not leave it simply an institute of teachers and students with fees and examinations as a bond of union. It is rather a community of men and women associated to spread knowledge; a co-operative society in which every member gives as well as gets. It owes its strength to that which each character supplies, and depends rather on what its members are than on what they know.

All are induced to remember that that which is given should be passed on, and that possessions not shared tend to degrade their owners.

The most direct result is, however, the list of those who, being members or Associates of Toynbee Hall, are now engaged in active work as members of Boards and Councils, or as managers of Board Schools.

The tendency, I think I am, therefore, justified in saying, is towards a closer relationship between University Settlements and Local Government.

If the tendency develops, and if University Settlements are multiplied, not only in London but in the great towns of the country, the result will be striking.


We may suppose, for example, that the men living in these settlements agree on some measure of social reform, legislative or administrative. They will have behind them the confidence of the people which they have won as neighbours, they will have in them the faith of those who speak of what they know, and they will have brought to the study of the questions the knowledge shared by the educated classes.

Belonging to no party, and having no smaller object, ecclesiastical, political, or personal, to serve, they will set forward only those objects which are for the undoubted good of the whole.

The condition precedent to such a result is more residents and more settlements.


Ten years have shown that men may live in industrial as in fashionable quarters, it has been abundantly proved that contact creates a sympathy unattainable by study, and signs are, I think, evident that the influence which comes into and goes out from a University Settlement, is the most powerful to change habits of living, both among the poor and among the rich.


The last distinction, it has been said, which will be done away with is that between the educated and uneducated.

My hope is that settlements may do something to bring together those forces which are now by misunderstanding so often opposed: my belief is that they will best do so when identified with no party, each settlement setting an example of men agreeing to differ and all together caring for the common good.

The elements of religion are better spread by the example of life than by the preaching of doctrines.”