Toynbee Hall

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

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


  1. http://www.mernick.org.uk/thhol/easlon02.html 

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

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

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