The Peabody Trust – 1886

By 1886 the Peabody Trust had been in existence for over twenty years, and had, to a large extent, fulfilled its objectives of providing low cost, decent housing for the indigenous, working poor of London.

The first Peabody flats had opened on Commercial Street, Spitalfields, in the East End of London in 1864, and this was soon followed by similar blocks in Westminster, Blackfriars, Bethnal Green, Islington, and other parts of London, all of which endeavoured to bring civilised social housing to the inhabitants of some of the worst slums in Europe.

A view of the Peabody Building.
The Peabody Building, Commercial Street, Spitalfields.


However, there was some criticism that the rents being asked for the accommodation in the distinctive Peabody blocks were beyond the financial reach of many of the poor whom they had been intended to cater for.

The trust was, without doubt, a pioneer of social housing, providing its tenants with, until then, undreamed of luxuries such as separate laundry rooms and areas in which the children of the tenants could play safely.

To tackle the naysayers, who were accusing the trust of ignoring the plight of the destitute poor, the Peabody Trust went on a press offensive in early 1886; and several newspaper articles appeared that, whilst not denying the fact that there were some elements of the poor of London whose modest, to the point of being none existent, means the new flats were well beyond the reach of, the trust was providing valuable public service, in that it was enabling the all important workforce with affordable and decent accommodation in London.

Indeed, many newspapers were making a point that, in many ways, is still being raised today, as rents and house prices have risen to be well beyond the means of a workforce that is necessary to ensure that London’s amenities and services run smoothly.


One such article appeared in The Globe on Saturday the 20th of February 1886.

“The work of the Peabody Trust has now extended over twenty years, and it is satisfactory to learn from the report of last year’s operations that it is extending its field of usefulness.


Eight new blocks of workmen’s dwellings were opened last year, including 941 rooms, and the number of persons provided for up to the end of the year was 20,000.

This number bears, it is true, but a small proportion to the whole artisan and labouring population of London, but when it is borne in mind that but for the work of Mr. Peabody’s trustees, the greater part would almost certainly have been living in conditions hurtful alike to health and morals, the result will not appear a trifling one.


The common impression that the really poor are not benefited by the Trust is shown to be unfounded by the fact that the average earning of the heads of families occupying apartments under it do not reach 24s. a week.

A single room is usually all that a man with that income can provide for himself if he is compelled to live in the central parts of London, whether he has one child or half-a-dozen, but it is found possible by the trustees to let two rooms at the price commonly paid in the localities for one, and the gain which this implies to comfort and decency need not be pointed out.


The list given of the occupations of tenants equally goes to show that the object of the bequest is being faithfully carried out.

There is not a single clerk or warehouseman among the Peabody population, except four, who are designated as “supernumerary clerks,” and but very few shopmen.

On the other hand, we find 601 labourers, 497 porters, 294 carmen, 231 charwomen, and 267 needlewomen, or some 1,800 in all of the most poorly paid persons in London.


It is quite true, of course, that there is a social stratum below that provided for in the Peabody dwellings, and how it is to be dealt with is one of the most difficult of problems to be solved.

What the Peabody and other similar schemes have proved, however, is that comfortable and healthy house-room can be found for the working classes at prices immensely below what they have been accustomed to pay, while a fair return in secured for the capital invested.”


Today over 130 years later, the Peabody Trust is still going strong, and is still providing affordable housing for more than 70,000 people.