Toynbee Hall

1880s Tudoresque settlement house with later additions, streetside building site of St Jude's vicarage

The Boys’ Refuge and Industrial School
Contributed by Survey of London on Dec. 24, 2018

Before the opening of Toynbee Hall in 1884, there stood on its site a Boys’ Refuge and Industrial School, built in 1852-3 on the recently completed Commercial Street. The site was originally planned for a ragged school (perhaps that which did open a year later in George Yard), but it was acquired by the brewers Truman, Hanbury & Co., probably in 1852 when fundraising began for the Boys’ Refuge. The site appears to have been acquired through Truman, Hanbury & Co., the bulk of the funds coming from the Hanbury and Buxton families, which owned the brewery, with Robert Hanbury jun (1823-67), MP for Middlesex, as treasurer, and Charles Buxton (1822-71) as Hon. Secretary. The Refuge, to the designs of Frederick William Porter (1821-1901), architect, was a utilitarian brick building of two steep double-pitched roofs with clerestory glazing. It housed a dormitory, workshops and schoolroom, with a small governor’s house adjoining.

Opened by the Earl of Shaftesbury in July 1853 it admitted its first boys in November. It was ‘intended for the prevention of crime. The boys who are admitted are either friendless orphans, or the children of parents so depraved as to make it absolutely essential that they should be removed from them. The mere fact of a boy having been convicted does not necessarily exclude him’.1

During a probationary period, boys slept at a dormitory in Colchester Street and were trained during the day in carpentry, tailoring or shoemaking, according to their aptitudes. Having passed probation they resided at the Refuge and the day had time allocated for spiritual instruction from Hugh Allen, vicar of St Jude’s, schoolwork, and play. A school band and military drill were instituted, and boys had an annual outing to Poles, the Hertfordshire home of Robert Hanbury senior. By 1856 around 100 boys were accommodated, a number that remained steady into the 1870s; the school closed in 1883 or 1884, following a fire that partially destroyed the workshops. The site was put up for sale, possibly following the death of the elder Robert Hanbury in January 1884, and acquired for Toynbee Hall.2

  1. Statement of the Boys’ Refuge for the Prevention of Crime, Commercial Street, Whitechapel’, London 1854, Knowsley Pamphlet Collection, University of Liverpool: Dictionary of Irish Architects, 1720-1940 

  2. Builder (B), 24 Jan 1857, p. 55: Illustrated London News,  6 Aug 1857, p 121: Penny Illustrated Paper, 9 July 1864, p. 3: Eighteenth Report on… Reformatory and Industrial Schools, London 1875, p. 157: Globe, 7 March 1883, p. 2: Ancestry 

Toynbee Hall
Contributed by Survey of London on Dec. 24, 2018

The Boys' Refuge provided a literal foundation for the building of Toynbee Hall, the first university settlement, which opened in 1884. Samuel Barnett, the incumbent since 1873 of the neighbouring St Jude’s, had since his appointment been pursuing his mission to enable his parishioners to realise their ‘best selves’ through various pastoral and educational initiatives. From before his arrival in Whitechapel, Barnett had been involved in social reform initiatives, as a founder with Octavia Hill of the Charity Organisation Society, which sought to make sense of the hundreds of diverse charitable and philanthropic organisations, and to fight against ‘doles’, that to give ‘indiscriminant charity’ without a means test was further to pauperize the poor.1 In Whitechapel he had involved himself in civic as well as church activities, as a Poor Law Guardian, a campaigner for the adoption of the Public Libraries Act, and a founder of the East End Dwellings Company.2

All these activities stemmed from Barnett’s mission to break down class barriers, and belief in the duty of the fortunate, educated middle classes to share the benefits of their education with the less fortunate, to enable them to realise their ‘ best selves’, and as a lubricant to mutual understanding between the classes. For Barnett’s friend Matthew Arnold, it had a particular cultural flavour, that class consciousness had impeded the goal of ‘sweetness and light’ and ‘[t]he humanising, the bringing in to one harmonious and truly humane life, of the whole body of English society’.3 These ideas had been maturing among Barnett’s associates since the 1860s, particularly in Oxford, promoted there by the philosopher T. H. Green, who, although he had abandoned orthodox Christianity, believed in God’s immanence within the self, that the discovery of that was the path not just to individual enlightenment but, pursued, as was the duty of the affluent and educated, by one-on-one personal connection with the less fortunate, demonstrating by their leadership how others could realise their better selves as part of a larger community.4 One of Green’s pupils and another friend of Samuel Barnett, the historian Arnold Toynbee, believed in the need for a disinterested elite to ‘give up the life with the books and those we love’ to help the poor, who must be prepared to pledge themselves to ‘lead a better life’, as framed by their educated betters.5

Although Barnett’s pursuit of these ideas was to be the best known attempt to realise these ideas, East London had already attracted others with similar ambitions. The social historian, the Rev. John Richard Green (1837-83) had been the incumbent at St Philip, Stepney in 1865-9, with similar aims in mind, and the reformer and some-time MP Edward Denison (1840-70) had gone to live in Philpot Street in 1867 in the belief that only by living among the working class would a genuine community be created, of men and women of all classes devoted to a common purpose of social improvement: ‘Build school-houses, pay teachers, give prizes, frame workmen’s clubs, help them to help themselves; lend them your brains’.6

It was in this spirit that from the late 1870s Barnett, chafing ‘against the constrictions imposed by parish concerns’, began to put these ideas into practice, encouraging undergraduates and others, among them Arnold Toynbee, to come and give of their time and education in Whitechapel and, as Henrietta Barnett put it: ‘we put them to such work as was possible during the vacations’.7 In November 1883 Barnett gave a paper in Oxford on ‘University Settlements in East London’, which set out a more ambitious plan for the establishment of a settlement house in a poor area of London, which would become ‘a common ground for all classes’, with lectures, conversations and receptions which would afford ‘all sorts and conditions of men’ the chance to come to know each other. ‘[T]houghts and feelings which are now often spent in vain talks at debating societies will go up to town to refresh those who are spent by labour, or to find an outlet in action… by sympathy and service to the lives of the people, settlers would ‘bring the light and strength of intelligence to bear on their government’.8

In December 1883 a committee of Oxford men and London supporters, including the Liberal MP James Bryce had been set up to realise these aims, funds were raised, and by February 1884 the decision had been made to set up a settlement in London, on condition that Barnett be its warden.] That month the Boys’ Refuge building next to St Jude’s was bought for £6,350, the new building to accommodate ‘rooms for 16 men, classroom for 100, large drawing or conversation room, billiard room and drawing room’.9 The Universities Settlement Association was formally registered in July 1884 as a joint stock undertaking, its objects being ‘education and the means of recreation and enjoyment for the people in the poorer districts of London and other great cities’ and the wider ‘inquiry into the condition of the poor and to consider and advance plans to promote their welfare’.10

It was Henrietta Barnett who offered the name Toynbee Hall for this first settlement in Whitechapel, a memorial to Arnold Toynbee who had died, aged 31, in 1883.11

The building of Toynbee Hall was essentially a recasting of the Boys’ Refuge rather than a completely new building: when the site was acquired, the buildings were described by Barnett as already ‘half-demolished’. Elijah Hoole (1838-1912), the Nonconformist London School Board architect, was tasked with the ‘object of using them as far as possible’ and with producing plans ‘with the utmost regard to economy’, though the overall cost of the site, buildings and furnishing and fitting was estimated at £8,000.12 The workmen started work on 29 June and, according to Barnett, were to ‘give us a habitable place by 13 Sept’.13 Certainly, the work was recorded only as ‘alterations to Boys’ Refuge’, and the new building followed the footprint, and presumably used the foundations, of the Refuge, with the settlers’ sitting rooms occupying the site of the governors’ house, and the lecture hall of Toynbee Hall occupying the site of the Refuge’s workshops and dormitory, and the new dining hall on the site of the old schoolroom and offices; the kitchen wing on the north side was virtually unchanged.14 Billiards had to wait until the conversion in 1887 of a workshop into clubroom etc adjoining College Buildings in Wentworth Street, but a short wing was built west from the former Boys' Refuge governor’s house site along the side of St Jude’s with a second entrance and a large drawing room in its own pitched-roof building.

On the first floor, above the lecture room and dining room, were the rest of the settlers’ rooms, some two-room sets, others bedsitters, surrounding a central common room lit from dormers in its pitched roof.

The hall also followed, probably coincidentally, the general disposition of the Refuge, with steeply pitched gabled fronts to the main building, but its Tudoresque architectural expression in warm red brick with Box-stone dressings, stone-mullioned and transomed leaded-light windows and assertively tall ribbed chimneys, was more aspirational: Barnett called it ‘a manorial residence in Whitechapel’, but what it resembled more, especially with the sense of enclosure provided by the gatehouse and the warehouses fronting Commercial Street, was an Oxford college.15 Barnett had been in correspondence with Hoole for some years before this, on the subject of industrial dwellings, which was soon to bear fruit in Whitechapel in College Buildings.16 The style fitted with commonly held romantic ideas of an ideal communitarian but hierarchical society existing in the middle ages, and Hoole was himself, at heart, a Goth.

The drawing room at Toynbee Hall (now the Toynbee Studios café), c. 1890.

The interior of Toynbee Hall reflected the tastes and ambitions of its founders. The drawing room was furnished in a mix of Aesthetic and Arts and Crafts styles, with improving prints and sculpture, the leaded windows draped incongruously in rich curtaining: ‘we … decided to make it exactly like a West End drawing room, erring, if at all, on the side of gorgeousness’.17 The students’ rooms were more simply furnished but ‘in all rooms neutral drabs were abolished: Whitechapel needed lovely colours’.18

Toynbee Hall staircase, 2018. Photograph © Derek Kendall.

The staircase at the south-east corner was an especial tour de force, the balusters composed of circular fretwork discs of twining leaves.19

The hall’s opening was ‘cruelly delayed’ in Barnett’s view, and the first two Oxford settlers C.H. Grinling and H.D. Leigh, stayed in Toynbee Hall on Christmas Eve 1884. The building was not ready to be opened – by the Prince of Wales - till the end of January 1885, though the settlers’ rooms were soon filled.20

Soon a wide array of classes in history, economics, literature, chemistry, botany and languages were being offered, along with reading groups and ‘conversaziones’, entertainments, sports clubs and social events where settlers could invite four ‘pals’ each into the collegiate dining room.21 Though the fees – from one shilling – did not preclude anyone but the very poorest, and evening classes were held for those who had work to attend to during the day, the level of the teaching, which soon included university extension classes, was aspirational.

These aims were especially evident in the dining room, decorated by the young Charles Robert Ashbee, who had arrived at Toynbee Hall in 1886 to teach classes on Ruskin, despite his reservations that the venture might represent ‘top hatty philanthropy’. At Cambridge in the early 1880s he had come under the spell of ideas similar to those that had energised Barnett in Oxford. His was an avowedly non-Christian world view, but in a similar vein to that of Barnett and T.H, Green; he came, in Alan Crawford’s words, ‘to look on all material things and the manifold details of experience as the revelation of a deeper spiritual reality’.22

But Ruskin meant also, to Ashbee as to so many idealistic architects of his generation, a veneration for the materials of building and the free will of the workman in working them, as well as a horror for the industrial system and its dehumanising division of labour.

Soon Ashbee and his Ruskin students were putting what they read in to practice in the dining room, in 1887 adding plaster medallions of a stylised tree and T, for Toynbee Hall, designed by Ashbee; around these discs were painted sunflower leaves. Painted plaster coats of arms of Oxford and Cambridge colleges ran in a frieze around the tops of the walls.

Ashbee had developed, too, from discussions with Edward Carpenter, a notion of manly comradeship, the common humanity beneath the differences of class. It was in this spirit that he founded the Guild and School of Handicraft, its first premises on the top floor of a converted warehouse at 34 Commercial Street, beside the entrance to Toynbee Hall.

The idea was for the Guild to operate as a commercial concern, making ‘simple but high-class work in wood and metal’, the workmen also to teach their skills to apprentices. Ashbee had consulted William Morris, whose firm Morris Marshall Faulkner & Co, founded nearly thirty years earlier, can be seen as a model at least in artistic terms, and whose romantic ruralist vision of medieval England as a civilised communitarian utopia had enraptured a generation of idealistic young architects and designers. But Morris was discouraging. By the time Ashbee called, Morris was convinced that only the overthrow of society by revolution could sweep away its ills; art schools, even on comradely terms, were pointless. Ashbee never reached that point, believing in an evolutionary not a revolutionary path.

But Ashbee was tiring of Toynbee Hall, as some others had, because of its cloistered unreal atmosphere. The success of the Guild also meant he needed bigger premises, and in 1891 he moved to Essex House in Mile End Road, and in 1902 on to Chipping Campden in the Cotswolds, to begin another chapter in the Arts and Crafts story.

Toynbee Hall continued to evolve. By 1886 one of the worst slums locally, New Court, adjoining east to Toynbee Hall, had been pulled down as part of the Flower and Dean Street Improvement and on it its site were built an extension to St Jude’s National Schools, College Buildings and a tennis court.23 In 1886-7 a three-storey library wing, including a laboratory, with spiral staircase in a corner tourelle and an open cloistered ground floor, was added by Lathey Bros, builders, at the hall’s northwest corner.24

In 1892 a cloister-like brick colonnade between the gatehouse and the drawing room was added, with a picturesque tile-hung clock tower atop it, paid for by Bolton King, a long-term Toynbee resident, financial supporter and Secretary of Toynbee Hall. Barnett, having resigned as incumbent of St Jude’s, moved next door to the gatehouse building, converted into a Warden’s Lodge by Elijah Hoole, with an imposing oriel window added on the first floor overlooking Commercial Street.25

By the early twentieth century the Barnetts were less involved with day-to-day life at Toynbee Hall, preoccupied, among other matters, with the creation of Hampstead Garden Suburb, and Samuel resigned as Warden in 1906.26 There was already a shift in the tone at Toynbee, a recognition of the greater role other organisations had to play in social reform, and Barnett promoted the participation of trade unions, encouraging them to hold their meetings there. Even Barnett came to accept, as Arnold Toynbee had before him, the essential role of the state in achieving social reform. By the time William Beveridge arrived as sub-warden in 1903 the tone was shifting further. Beveridge disliked ‘soup kitchens and genial smiles for the proletariat’, and wished to make it a centre ‘for the development of authoritative opinion on the problems of city life’.27 This echoed one of the founding tenets of Toynbee Hall, that of ‘inquiry into the condition of the poor’, one that had been pursued in the form of Charles Booth’s magisterial surveys of London labour and the poor, and of religious life, many of whose assistants, notably Ernest Aves, were based at Toynbee Hall.28 Another assistant on and off for around ten years from the early 20th century was Clement Attlee, the future prime minister who was to bring Beveridge’s plan for the welfare state into existence after the Second World War, the most ample realisation of Barnett’s hope that Toynbee should act as the crucible for the country’s future leaders.29

The settlement model had found traction elsewhere, however. By the First World War there were twenty-seven residential settlements in London, thirty-nine throughout the country, and the movement was represented internationally notably in the United States (where there were 400 settlements alone by 1913), France, Japan and the Netherlands.30

Times were changing and Toynbee Hall changed with them, notably under the successful wardenship in 1919-54 of ‘the most popular man east of Aldgate Pump’, James Joseph Mallon, a trade unionist and some-time would-be Labour MP from an Irish working class background in Ancoats in Manchester.31 Mallon’s success was due perhaps to his congenial character and a background that enabled him to relate more easily to the local population. His initiatives on sweated labour, public order, education and hire purchase while he was at Toynbee Hall influenced several Acts of Parliament. But it was his cultural interests, reflected in increased music, dance and drama activities in Toynbee Hall that drove the alterations and extensions to the buildings which were showing their age by the 1930s.32

In 1931 a young artist, Archibald Ziegler, heard that J. J. Mallon was seeking designs for mural paintings to occupy the frieze above the oak panelling in the lecture hall. Ziegler (1903-71) was an East Ender who studied at the Central School of Arts and Crafts and won a L.C.C. scholarship to the Royal College of Art after a spell at sea as a cook. He was given the job at Toynbee Hall on ‘house painter’s wages’, and the panels, on the theme of the arts and sciences in a pastoralist manner reminiscent of Stanley Spencer, were completed in December 1932.33

The Ziegler murals in Toynbee Hall from the Illustrated London News, 24 Dec 1932

They depicted, clockwise from the south (entrance) wall: drama, folk dancing; west wall: bathers, lute from part of the music panel; north wall: music, painting, sculpture, literature; and the east wall: locomotion, astronomy, zoology and, native industries’ (which turned the corner ending on the south wall).34

The war saw a curtailment of normal activity as Toynbee became a centre for distribution of food donated from Petticoat Lane, blankets and clothing, organising rehousing for those made homeless in the Blitz, and from 1941, opening the Toynbee Restaurant supplying 600 meals a day. On 10 March 1941 incendiary and high-explosive  bombs gutted the library at Toynbee Hall, and the whole of the Commercial Street frontage enclosing Toynbee Hall, including the 1840s former St Jude’s vicarage at 26 Commercial Street, and the Warden’s Lodge, destroying a lifetime’s papers and possession of J.J. Mallon, and four of the five 1860s warehouses at 30-36 Commercial Street. Despite this, even in 1940-1, the student enrolment at Toynbee Hall never fell below 500 during the war.35 The buildings were cleared after the war, except for the surviving ground floor of the library, used variously as cinema room and offices in the 1950s and rehearsal rooms in the 1960s. With the land gifted by the L.C.C., a simple garden, partly sunken, reflecting the basement level of the former street-side buildings and known from the mid 1950s following Mallon’s retirement, as Mallon Garden, later Mallon Gardens, was created, opening up Toynbee Hall to the bustle of Commercial Street.36

Mallon finally retired at the age of 80 in 1954 and the new Warden, A.E. Eustace, was appointed largely to report on Toynbee’s future role. The war had accelerated the shift at Toynbee from academic education, by then largely seen as the province of the London County Council, to recreational classes (languages, music and dance, and drama, notably) and social work, in the context of the new welfare state, that aimed to refocus on the local population, and the increasing number of paid administrative staff to run the activities brought into question the residential character of the enterprise, with many of the small number of residents who had come since the war seen as regarding it as ‘a friendly “boarding house”, conveniently near to the City’.37 After much soul searching it was decided that it was still valuable to have residents (not least because they could take on some tasks then undertaken by paid staff, thereby reducing the substantial debt) but that they should be more carefully picked (not necessarily from Oxford and Cambridge) for their commitment to Toynbee’s values, and that there should be renewed efforts to encourage social contact among older and younger users of Toynbee’s services.38 Some could perhaps reside in the four blocks of flats surrounding Toynbee Hall that the association still owned, and help run the Neighbours’ Club which had come into being for tenants. A likely new use as a centre for the training of social workers foundered, partly on account of the dilapidated buildings, and the Mary Ward Settlement in Bloomsbury was chosen for this instead.39

A new Warden with international links, Walter Birmingham, arrived in 1963 just as Whitechapel’s demographic was once again shifting. Where Barnett had been at pains to stress the openness of Toynbee Hall to its Jewish neighbours, Birmingham now launched a booklet Our East London designed to counter ‘racial and religious’ intolerance.40 In 1965 a Workers’ Education centre was set up at Toynbee Hall to assist new arrivals, mainly from the Indian subcontinent, East Africa and the Caribbean, and the Campaign against Racial Discrimination found accommodation at Toynbee Hall ‘on a generous basis’.41

An important event in the stabilisation of Toynbee Hall as an institution was the arrival as a volunteer in 1964 of John Profumo, the former Secretary of State for War, who had resigned the previous year over a sexual scandal. Profumo energised fundraising and secured Toynbee Hall’s future, with promises of £150,000 by 1967. In 1965-7 a new building to the designs of Martin and Bayley, architects, incorporating offices and a Warden’s flat, and accommodation for ‘junior residents’, adolescents recently arrived in London, and known as The Gatehouse, was finally built on the site of its bombed predecessor.42 It was a utilitarian three-storey-over-basement concrete- framed block faced in reddish-brown brick, the ground floor recessed along its north side to create a covered walkway like its predecessor, and a separate entrance along the south side to the Theatre; in 2006 it was renamed Profumo House in recognition of Profumo’s 40-year contribution to Toynbee Hall.43

  1. Henrietta Barnett, Canon Barnett: His Life, Work and Friends (Canon Barnett), London 1918, vol i, pp. 27-8: Deborah E.B. Weiner (Weiner), ‘The architecture of Victorian philanthropy: the settlement house as manorial residence’, Art History, June 1990, pp. 212-27 (p. 216) 

  2. East London Observer, 14 Dec 1878, p. 6: Canon Barnett, i, pp. 129-40: 201-08; ii, 4-8, 274-7, 280-1 

  3. Matthew Arnold, Mixed Essays, Irish and Others, London 1894, p. 246 

  4. Standish Meacham (Meacham), Toynbee Hall and Social Reform, 1880-1914, New Haven and London, 1987, pp. 11-16 

  5. Meacham, p. 17 

  6. Meacham, pp. 4-5: Asa Briggs and Anne Macartney (Briggs and Macartney), Toynbee Hall: The First Hundred Years, London, 1984, pp. 4, 6 and 8: Baldwin Leighton, Letters and Other Writings of Edward Denison, London 1872, p. 37: Henry Walker, East London. I : Whitechapel, Sketches of Christian Work and Workers, London 1896 

  7. Canon Barnett, i, p. 306 

  8. Meacham, p. 33: Canon Barnett, i. pp. 308-10 

  9. London Metropolitan Archives (LMA), F/BAR/4: Meacham, pp. 34-5: Briggs and Macartney, pp. 8-9: Canon Barnett, i, p. 314: First Annual Report of the Universities’ Settlement in East London, London 1885, p. 39 

  10. Meacham, p. 34: Canon Barnett, i, p. 311 

  11. Canon Barnett, i, p. 313 

  12. First Annual Report of the Universities’ Settlement in East London, London 1885, p. 8 

  13. LMA, F/BAR/12: Canon Barnett, i, p. 313 

  14. LMA, District Surveyors' Returns (DSR): B, 14 Feb 1885, p. 713 

  15. Canon Barnett, i, p. 314: Briggs and Macartney, pp. 22-3: LMA, F/BAR/6 

  16. Weiner, p. 212: Canon Barnett, i, p. 130 

  17. Canon Barnett, ii, p. 42 

  18. ibid 

  19. LMA, F/BAR/15: John Nelson Tarn, Five Per Cent Philanthropy: An Account of Housing in Urban Areas, Cambridge 1973, pp. 87, 94, 96 

  20. Canon Barnett, i, p. 313: LMA, F/BAR/15; F/BAR/22 

  21. Toynbee Record and Toynbee Journal, passim: LMA, F/BAR/20; A/TOY/26/11 

  22. Alan Crawford, C.R. Ashbee: Architect, Designer and Romantic Socialist, 2nd edn 2005, pp. 32-41 

  23. DSR: LMA, Land Tax returns 

  24. DSR: Canon Barnett, i, pp. 129-40 

  25. LMA,GLC/AR/BR/17/004168:  Canon Barnett, ii, 310: DSR: Goad 

  26. Briggs and Macartney, pp. 59-60 

  27. Briggs and Macartney, p. 61: Canon Barnett, ii, p. 381 

  28. Meacham, p. 34: Briggs and Macartney, pp. 9, 17-19 

  29. Briggs and Macartney, pp. 50, 89, 94 

  30. Werner Picht, Toynbee Hall and the English Settlement Movement, trans. Lilian A. Cowell, London, 1914, quoted in Weiner, p. 214: Briggs and Macartney, pp. 19-20: Canon Barnett, ii, pp. 31, 49-51 

  31. Briggs and Macartney, pp. 91-139: Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (ODNB) 

  32. LMA, A/TOY/26/11/67 

  33. llustrated London News (ILN), 24 Dec 1932, p. 1025: The Studio, Oct 1950, pp. 112-15: Birmingham Post, 14 July 1971, p. 1 

  34. Tower Hamlets planning applications online (THP): Alan Baxter Associates, The Ziegler Murals: Significance and Options, London 2016 

  35. Briggs and Macartney, p. 129 

  36. THP: Briggs and Macartney, p. 138: LMA, A/TOY/025/028 

  37. ‘A future for Toynbee Hall’, report, 1954: LMA, GLC/RA/D6/02/024 

  38. ibid 

  39. Briggs and Macartney, pp. 145-50 

  40. Briggs and Macartney, p. 153 

  41. Briggs and Macartney, pp. 166-7 

  42. LMA, GLC/AR/BR/13/111025; GLC/AR/BR/17/004168 

  43. THP: LMA, ACC/2486/244; ACC/2486/276; GLC/AR/BR/13/111025; GLC/AR/BR/17/004168: /demolition-work-begins-as-we-rebuild-profumo-house 

The regeneration of Toynbee Hall and its estate, 2013-19
Contributed by Survey of London on Dec. 30, 2018

By the early 21st century Toynbee Hall was once again questioning the financial viability of its activities, in the context of a historic inner London building, Grade II Listed since 1973, surrounded by buildings that had accrued piecemeal in the second half of the 20th century.

The decision was made in 2013 to redevelop its estate at a cost of £17m, partly from borrowing, partly by fundraising (Heritage Lottery Fund, the National Lottery, the Garfield West Foundation and the Coutts Foundation, the principal benefactors) and partly by a partnership with a private developer, to take a lease on the sites of Attlee and Sunley Houses and College East, by then leased to One Housing, and rebuild them as mixed tenure housing and offices.1 The scheme is forecast to enable Toynbee Hall to increase the number of those it can assist, with legal and debt advice, wellbeing, notably for the elderly, and education in a year by fifty per cent, to 20,000.2

The initial scheme prepared by CMA Planning consultants with Richard Griffiths conservation architects, approved in March 2015, proposed restoring and extending Toynbee Hall, altering rather than demolishing Attlee House, building two extra floors on top of Profumo House, and adding a new building on the north side of Mallon Gardens adjoining No. 38 Commercial Street.

The first works in 2016-18, with Thomas Sinden as main contractors, were to Toynbee Hall itself, by then somewhat scruffy and with ad hoc partitions and fire doors in many rooms. As well as restoring the fabric, notably Hoole’s leaf-roundel staircase balusters which had shed a lot of leaves over the years, the scheme replaced single-storey 1970s additions to the rear housing kitchens, WCs and an archive room, with a two-storey addition in brick matching the original building, attached to the existing building by a top-lit corridor, which on the ground floor features a permanent exhibition about Toynbee Hall’s history. This aimed to improve access and circulation, the ground floor intended for conferences, education and functions, with breakout rooms off the Ashbee Room (the former dining room), and another multi-purpose room, clad in painted matchboarding in place of the 1970s kitchen on the west side.

The new west elevation has four striking double-pitched gables with bronze- finish zinc cladding behind a full-width balcony off a new first-floor rear room.

Two staff flats for were created on the first and second floors. A new more visible entrance, in place of that directly into the lecture room, led into what had been student sitting rooms on the ground floor. Upstairs later additions were removed, and the small student rooms opened up into larger, more usable spaces, though retaining the original corner fireplaces which bring a curiously Cubist articulation to the rooms.

A distinction was made in the decoration of the relatively untouched historic portions, which feature deeper ‘Victorian shades’, and the pale new and newly created spaces. During works the Ziegler murals from the lecture rooms were discovered in situ, the boards on which they had been painted merely turned round during previous works, probably in the 1970s. They are in store pending conservation and reinstatement. Toynbee Hall’s refurbishment was completed in July 2018.

A revised scheme for the rest of the site was approved in 2016 with London Square developers, founded in 2010, as the partner for constructing the flats: the building next to 38 Commercial Street was omitted and a new building, five floors with a top-floor setback replicating the Profumo Building’s colonnade, to house offices and the Toynbee advice service, was proposed for the site of Profumo House.

The flats, like the new Profumo House, to the designs of Platform5 architects in collaboration with David Hughes Architects, roughly follow the footprints of Attlee House, College East and Sunley House, demolished in 2016, with the exception of the retained frontage of College Buildings, which was retained once again.

The new flats, with Togher Construction Ltd as main contractor, are five and six storeys on the Wentworth Street frontage, whose façade mimics the rhythm of College Buildings, with three-window-wide sections alternately four and five storeys high, the whole with a set-back fully glazed sixth floor, further articulation achieved through different shades of facing brick from beige to black, recessed balconies on the Wentworth Street frontage and projecting balconies on the four-storey Gunthorpe Street frontage.3

The scheme is increasingly unusual, though appropriate to Toynbee Hall’s ethos, in fully integrating the affordable housing (14 flats out of 63) into the scheme, though the names of the blocks – Leadenhall (Attlee site), Billingsgate (College East) and Broadway (Sunley) indicate the City-focused aspirations of the developer. Mallon Gardens is to be landscaped level with the street for the first time ‘as the centre of a model urban village with a strong physical and visual relationship to the heritage asset and the wider Toynbee Estate’. The project is scheduled to complete 2019.

Sundays at Toynbee Hall, 1896
Contributed by amymilnesmith on July 17, 2016

A selection from: Henry Walker, East London. I : Whitechapel, Sketches of Christian work and workers. Published by the Religious Tract Society, 1896

"The Universities Settlement, known as Toynbee Hall, may naturally be expected to figure in a description of a Whitechapel Sunday. In what form, it might be asked, does it contribute to the religious activity of the day? Toynbee Hall is situated in almost the centre of the Jewish quarter, and is entered from Commercial Street, the great thoroughfare which unites Spitalfields with Whitechapel High Street. By its side stands St. Jude's Church, of which one of the leaders of the Universities Settlement project, Canon Barnett, was for many years the vicar. Opposite to St. Jude's is one of the most notable chapels of a former generation, the Baptist Chapel of which the late Charles Stovell was for many years the famous minister, and to which he drew by the solemnity and force of his preaching a large and influential congregation.

The visitor will be disappointed if he expects to find Toynbee Hall a directly religious agency established for evangelistic purposes, and undertaking or assisting in church work on Sundays. It should at once be said that the word 'mission' does not occur in its programme, although the intense glow of the inner personal life of Edward Denison, the leader of the movement, is still felt in the settlement. It was in 1867 that Denison, an Oxford student who had been profoundly impressed with the gulf existing between the rich and the poor in London, took lodgings near the London Hospital, and tried to share his life with the poor of the district. His example was contagious, and by the year 1874 it had become the custom for a few Oxford graduates to spend part of their vacation in the neighbourhood of St. Jude's, Whitechapel, and to join in some of the work of the parish. Among them was Arnold Toynbee. The intensity which Denison and Toynbee threw into their teaching and example made a great impression on public opinion, and the settlement at Toynbee Hall took an organised and permanent form in the year 1884. From that date up to the present time its scope and aims have been ethical, social, and educational, and within the limitations thus adopted its character and achievements have become well known. Toynbee Hall is a lay settlement, and, in the words of its programme, its object is to 'provide education and the means of recreation and enjoyment for the people of the poorer districts of London.' Toynbee Hall 'has become a name under which a society holds together, formed of members of all classes, creeds, and opinions, with the aim of trying to press into East London the best gifts of the age.' "1


Teaching at Toynbee Hall in the 1970s
Contributed by maggie on Nov. 10, 2017

From 1971 to 1973 I volunteered to teach English to a class of Bengali sewing machinists. It was on Friday evenings from about 6:30 onwards, I think. We’d all been working full-time all day, me teaching a BA University of London external degree at what was then North-East London Polytechnic in Barking (now UEL), the students bent over machines for hours, yet the class was lively.

I was given no teaching materials, other than an ancient Bengali/English phrase book, but perhaps because I was improvising each week there was a wonderful sense of camaraderie. They were all young men. I asked about providing a class for women and I offered to teach this on another evening but such a class seemed to be impossible. The students were very young. I wondered if some were even legally able to work but their enthusiasm carried us all away into language games.

Quite soon, they began to worry that I should have some gifts in return for my teaching. I realized that the notion of gift giving was important to them but obviously I didn’t want to accept anything. One student had the brilliant idea of asking me to attend Sunday lunchtime Indian cinema which was a revelation. The screen carried no subtitles but the film was fairly easy to follow. However few in the audience seemed to be watching. The lights were full on and everyone had kinds of picnics which were shared around as they moved and mingled throughout the film. On another occasion one student gave me hash ‘straight off the boat’. That night I tried smoking but spent hours vomiting. He’d omitted to tell me the strength.

Sadly I had to stop after two years. My full-time teaching had become intensive. I had more responsibilities at work and had to research and publish if I was to continue as an academic.

But the two years were a real delight. Toynbee Hall was at its best – continuing the old tradition of reaching out to the local community.

Professor Maggie Humm

Toynbee Hall, entrances from the west in 2018
Contributed by Derek Kendall

Toynbee Hall, lecture room in 2018
Contributed by Derek Kendall

Toynbee Hall, dining room in 2018
Contributed by Derek Kendall

Toynbee Hall, frieze detail in dining room, 2018
Contributed by Derek Kendall

Toynbee Hall, staircase in 2018
Contributed by Derek Kendall

Toynbee Hall, staircase balustrade
Contributed by Derek Kendall

Toynbee Hall and related buildings, block plan in 2019 (drawing by Helen Jones)
Contributed by Survey of London

Toynbee Hall, staircase detail
Contributed by Derek Kendall

Toynbee Hall, from 'The Builder', 14 February 1885
Contributed by Survey of London

Toynbee Hall and related buildings, block plan in 1894 (drawing by Helen Jones)
Contributed by Survey of London

Toynbee Hall and related buildings, block plan in 2014 (drawing by Helen Jones)
Contributed by Survey of London

Boys' Refuge, plan in 1854 - drawing by Helen Jones
Contributed by Survey of London

Toynbee Hall, plan in 1885 - drawing by Helen Jones
Contributed by Survey of London

Silent film of Amelia Earhart visiting Toynbee Hall, 1928

This British Pathé newsreel from the silent film era features the American aviator Amelia Earhart (1897-1937) in Whitechapel on 25 June 1928, a few days after she completed her first transatlantic flight. The film shows Toynbee Hall largely as it was when first built, before the loss of the library and Commercial Street frontage in the Blitz.

Contributed by Aileen Reid on Aug. 11, 2016

A fleeting glimpse of war-damaged Toynbee Hall

This short home movie from the late 1960s has shots of various parts of East and South London, including at 00.05 to 00.12 on the timer, shots of Toynbee Hall, with the library bombed in the war on the site of Attlee House, and the tower of St Boniface's German Roman Catholic Church on Adler Street at 00.19 to 00.24 on the timer.

Contributed by Aileen Reid on Sept. 20, 2016

Toynbee Hall in 1964

silent footage from the Associated Press archive showing the still-bomb-damaged Toynbee Hall and with the old Police section house opposite, and parts of Petticoat Lane Market in Wentworth Street

Contributed by Survey of London on Nov. 27, 2017