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.' "
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