Toynbee Hall
Toynbee Hall was the first university settlement house of the settlement movement, a reformist social movement that strove to get the rich and poor to live more closely together in an interdependent community. Founded in 1884 on Commercial Street in Whitechapel in London's East End, it remains active today. A centre for social reform, Toynbee Hall was founded by Samuel and Henrietta Barnett, and named in memory of their friend and fellow reformer, Oxford historian Arnold Toynbee, who had died the previous year.

The original building was designed by the obscure Elijah Hoole in vicarage- gothic style. The building was designated a Grade II listed building in 1973. The radical idea behind Toynbee Hall that became the basis for settlement houses throughout England and the United States (e.g. Hull House) was that graduates would undertake social work in the deprived areas of towns and cities and learn something of what it was like to experience poverty " in the words of Samuel Barnett, 'to learn as much as to teach; to receive as much to give'.

Current programmes
Today, Toynbee Hall provides a series of programmes for young people and families, adults, and older people, which aim to meet the needs of local people, improve conditions and enable communities to fulfil their potential. The Young People and Families team aims to prevent young people from under-achieving, becoming involved in anti-social behaviour, or missing opportunities to meet their potential by engaging vulnerable young people in responsible and challenging activities that help them to develop their self-confidence, leadership and creative skills. The Adult Advice and Education team coordinates projects that support adults experiencing social or financial exclusion through free and independent advice sessions and workshops, referrals and partnership working. As one of the government’s pilot Link Age Plus Network Centres, Toynbee Hall works towards linking local services and opportunities for people aged over 50, including around debt, housing and health. The Older People team also provides a day care centre for isolated older people in the community. Each year over 400 volunteers help to deliver the charity’s services. On Toynbee Hall’s site the Barnett Research Centre houses a unique collection of socially important documents relating to the Settlement Movement and the history of social policy and social change nationally, internationally and in the East End of London. The Barnett Research Centre reference library and archive collection has over 4000 books and artifacts with many items dating back to the 19th century. The library is open to the public and is free to use. In 2007 the Toynbee Studios opened in part of the building offering dance and media studios and a theatre.

Notable people and organisations associated with it
  • Charles Robert Ashbee, son of erotomaniac Henry Spencer Ashbee, created his Guild of Handicraft whilst a resident at Toynbee Hall in the late 1880s
  • The Whitechapel Art Gallery (founded 1901) grew out of annual free art exhibitions organised by Henrietta Barnett
  • Toynbee residents included RH 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 Workers Educational Association (WEA) was founded here in 1903.
  • Child Poverty Action Group was founded at a meeting held at Toynbee Hall in 1965.
  • John Profumo dedicated much of his time to the Hall from the 1960s onwards after the Profumo Affair forced him out of politics.
  • Sir Harold Atcherley was Chairman of Toynbee Hall from 1985 to 1990.

  • Briggs, A. and Macartney, A. (1984) Toynbee Hall. The first hundred years, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.
  • Pimlott, J. A. R. (1935) Toynbee Hall. Fifty years of social progress 1884 - 1934, London: Dent.

Building Activity

  • removed a media and updated a digital reference
    about 6 years ago via
  • updated a digital reference
    about 6 years ago via Annotator