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Date of Creation:

1884 - 2015

Reference Code:


Scope and Content:
  • Records produced and collected by Toynbee Hall's (The Universities Settlement in East London) staff, central administration, departments and external organisations either based at Toynbee Hall, founded at Toynbee Hall or to which Toynbee belongs.
Extent: 30 linear metres
Classification: CHARITIES
Site Location: London Metropolitan Archives
Level of Description:

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Administrative History:
  • Toynbee Hall, a registered charity, continues to be based in its original home of 28, Commercial Street, Whitechapel, London, E1 in a listed Arts and Crafts inspired building designed by Elijah Hoole, built on the site of an old Industrial Boys School.

    Toynbee Hall led the International Settlement Movement and developed from a collaboration between Oxbridge students, lecturers, a number of prominent Victorian philanthropists and the Reverend Samuel and his wife Henrietta Barnett.

    Considered the first University Settlement of East London, residential volunteers moved into the present site just before Christmas in 1884. Oxford House in Bethnal Green actually opened its doors a month or so before. Arnold Toynbee -lecturer and political historian had worked hard to define the concept and bring about the building but unfortunately died before it was realised, hence, at Henrietta’s instigation, its name.

    Its stated aims as laid out in the first Annual Report are expressed as the 'alleviation of poverty via education, research and inclusive activity' promoting a 'non-denominational', and an 'A' political approach, uniting concerned individuals from 'all classes' of society.

    Over the last 130 years Toynbee Hall has had a great deal of social and political influence, a succession of Wardens, now known as Chief Executives, have led the organisation responding to both the perceived needs of the immediate and wider communities, including the International Community.

    In pursuing educational aims Toynbee Hall held a variety of adult classes for local people, Richard Tawney a residential volunteer, worked with Albert Mansbridge to establish the Workers Education Association in 1920's.

    Charles Booth based in a small 'shed' at Toynbee Hall supported by Samuel Barnett and Toynbee Hall residential volunteers researched his 'Poverty Maps', detailing the social conditions of the late 19th century in a 'crude' but 'scientific' manner.

    Other notable residential volunteers including Clement Attlee and William Beveridge who acted upon Charles Booths information helping to bring about the National Insurance Act, the National Health Service and the huge nationalisation program of the post second World War Labour Government.

    Over the years research based at Toynbee Hall has led to the increased professionalisation of teachers and social workers and the development of the Juvenile Courts system. Long time Warden James Mallon was involved in the groundbreaking research on the cost of living.

    By the late 1960's the concern over poverty in childhood led to the founding of the charity Child Poverty Action under the Wardenship of Walter Birmingham.

    Toynbee Hall has been visited by Lenin, Amelia Earhart, Marconi, every serving Prime Minister and most members of the Royal Family. The name John Profumo, a the Minister for War during the Second World War, is synonymous with Toynbee Hall as, after his fall from grace in the 1960's, he volunteered for almost 40 years until his death in 2006.

    Always concerned with cultural activities the Trustees of Toynbee Hall were initially surrounded by members of the Arts and Crafts movement including William Morris and supported the residential volunteer Charles Ashbee's handicraft workshops. As an extension to the exhibitions of work held in the halls by artists like Byrne -Jones, the Whitechapel Gallery was begun by Samuel Barnett. Early on there were regular musical performances, flower shows and cultural visits leading to the formation of the Workers Travel Association.

    By the 1950's the National Youth Theatre had its roots at Toynbee Hall alongside innovative dance and theatre.

    In the first wave of Citizens Advice Bureaus in 1939 Toynbee Hall had the largest and since then Toynbee Hall has turned its attention from the support of the local Jewish community many of whom had moved away to the in -coming Bangladeshi community via the Asian studies department promoting literacy, money management, support for older Bengali people and women’s classes.

    At the present time Toynbee Hall provides a continuance of the Free Legal Advice service set up in the 1880's, debt advice and money management. There are frontline mentoring services for young people building on the legacy of the many activities promoting the welfare of young people that Toynbee Hall developed from the Childrens Country Holiday Fund to boys clubs, guides, scouts and pre school playgroups. The current Wellbeing Centre provides a continuance of activities and a lunch club for older people.

    As Toynbee Hall enters a new phase with support from the Heritage Lottery Fund the halls will be conserved and its heritage will become a focus for educational development. However, from a newly built office block the alleviation of poverty continues to be the central aim of the organisation as it was in 1884.
Creator: Toynbee Hall
Source of Acquisition:
  • B15/113
Access Restrictions: These records are available for public inspection, although records containing personal information are subject to access restrictions under the UK Data Protection Act, 2018
Arrangement: These records are arranged following the original archive order when the colelction was at Toynbee Hall: LMA/4683/CEN Central Activities; LMA/4683/DEP Departments; LMA/4683/EXT External Organisations; LMA/4683/IMG Photographs; LMA/4683/SPE Special Collections