Octavia Hill, housing and social reform

Octavia Hill. From a Drawing by Edward Clifford, 1877. This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published (or registered with the U.S. Copyright Office) before January 1, 1923.

Octavia Hill, housing and social reform. Octavia Hill (1838-1912) made a defining contribution to the development of a more enlightened approach to the provision and management of housing for working people. Her championship of playgrounds, the army cadet corps and access to common lands and the countryside more broadly were also important. In this piece, we assess her contribution.

contents: introduction · life · octavia hill’s approach to housing · octavia hill and the need for space and organized play · the army cadet units · conclusion · further reading and references · how to cite this piece


Octavia Hill (1838-1912) is remembered, chiefly, for her innovations in housing and for her championship and organizing around the need for public open space (and her involvement in the establishment of the National Trust). She was committed to working directly with those in need both as an educator and worker. Like many of her generation of social reformers and social innovators, Octavia Hill was strongly opposed to any large scale intervention by the state (national or local) in welfare. Yet, ironically, a significant portion of her legacy lies in the development and management of housing by British local authorities during the inter-war years. In this article, we provide a brief biographical overview and then examine her contribution as a social reformer and educator in the fields of housing and the provision and enjoyment of open space.


Octavia Hill was, as Nancy Boyd has commented, fortunate in her parents (1982: 95). Her father, James Hill, was a corn merchant in Peterborough (and then in Wisbech) and Owenite social utopian (Darley 2004). Hill had been widowed twice and sought out a governess for his six children (five daughters, one son). He had been greatly impressed by the writings on education of Caroline Southwood Smith – who came from a family with humanitarian interests. Hired as a governess in 1832, she became Hill’s wife in 1835. Octavia was born in 1838.

James Hill wanted to establish a pioneering infant school in Wisbech – and this he did with Caroline’s help. It was housed in the Hall of the People (which Hill had built in 1837), based on Owen’s New Lanark School and run on Pestalozzian principles (Darley 1990: 25). Like the New Lanark Institute, there were also opportunities for adult education and recreation in the evenings.

At home Caroline Hill sought to create an environment in which her daughters could be secure and protected from suffering, to enjoy life, and to contribute through – initially – domestic responsibilities and manual labour. Octavia, for example, worked in the garden (Boyd 1982: 98). However, it was not an easy road. James Hill’s business was ruined by the 1840 depression – and the family became dependent on Caroline’s father for money. James Hill became severely depressed and never recovered fully. As a result, Caroline Hill looked for work to support the family – and found it as manager and bookkeeper of the Ladies’ Cooperative Guild – a Christian Socialist initiative based in Russell Place, London. Octavia did various jobs around the Guild, acting in effect as her mother’s assistant (Darley 2004). This included, at age 14, supervising the ragged school children’s work in toy-making (for which they were paid by the piece). Octavia Hill had been appalled by the poverty she had seen in London – and this was reinforced by reading Henry Mayhew’s London Labour and the London Poor (1851). She encouraged the children she supervised to come on Sunday outings to Hampstead Heath and the like. At the Guild, Octavia Hill would also go to meetings to hear addresses by Charles Kingsley, Thomas Hughes, John Ruskin and others.

With her sister Emily, Octavia Hill was also a frequent member of the congregation of the Chapel of Lincoln’s Inn. In particular, she went to hear Frederick Denison Maurice preach. Maurice had established himself as an original theologian and social innovator. He was also one of the main supporters of the Guild and took a strong interest in the Hill children. Frequently controversial, Maurice was experienced by those around him as a person of deep integrity (Reardon 2004). However, following the storm over Maurice’s Theological Essays (published in 1853), and the attack on him by evangelicals, he lost his post at Kings College. He was also forced out of the Guild in 1855 by the main financial supporter. Octavia Hill’s mother resigned and returned to her grandfather’s – but Octavia continued, then aged 17, to work at the Guild with her young toymakers. Her difficult position was solved by F. D. Maurice when he added classes for working women to the work of the Working Men’s College and asked Octavia to be Secretary (1856-1861). She also contributed to the teaching. Alongside this, she kept on a range of activities including continuing to work with the toymakers and tutoring.

John Ruskin also recognized the young Octavia Hill’s abilities – this time as an artist – and offered to train her as a copyist. She went daily to the National Gallery or Dulwich Art Gallery to copy pictures – and then spent long hours at the Working Men’s College. Inevitably she exhausted herself. Her family made her take a holiday, but as Gillian Darley (2004) has commented, ‘a dangerous pattern of working until she collapsed was established which would periodically interrupt her work over the coming years’.

Hill began to formulate a scheme for developing improved housing for poorer people. In 1864 John Ruskin’s father died leaving him a large sum of money. He was taken by Octavia Hill’s proposals and invested in her activities (for a five per cent return). With this money, Hill bought her first properties (in the classically named Paradise Place [later 2 Garbutt Place]) close to Marylebone High Street. A combination of extending and refurbishing the accommodation, regular maintenance and cleaning, and weekly visiting (both to collect rent and work where necessary with the tenants) led to the successful operation of the scheme. Once the five per cent return was achieved, any surplus could be spent by the tenants on common projects (with guidance by Octavia Hill). As a result, money could be used to develop a playground, and to put on classes or other projects (Darley 2004). Octavia Hill put to work her considerable skills as a publicist and networker to let others know about her schemes. Through a series of Letters to Fellow Workers (1864-1911), newspaper and journal articles and personal contact she gained a large number of financial backers and supporters and was able to expand the work considerably. Significantly, because her ‘method’ both provided a return and could be emulated, others also took an interest. By 1874 she had 15 housing schemes with around 3000 tenants (Morrell 1996: 96). Later, in 1884, Octavia Hill was invited to take on the management of a large stock of properties held by the Ecclesiastical Commissioners. She worked so conditions could be significantly improved and for the voice of tenants to be heard.

Not content with improving the housing conditions of poorer people, Octavia Hill looked to other aspects of life. Her schemes frequently included the building or conversion of halls in which concerts and other activities could take place; and the development of playgrounds. Hill began to campaign for the opening up of public space – especially in the form of accessing common land, and the reworking of disused burial grounds into parks and open space. She was also an ardent campaigner for the safeguarding of open spaces as London expanded (most notably around Parliament Hill Fields). One of Octavia Hill’s first campaigns (1875) was to oppose the development of part of Hampstead Heath – a group of fields known as Swiss Cottage Common. She had played in these fields as a child, and continued to take groups to them. Octavia Hill appealed for money to buy the fields – but was unsuccessful. The failure affected her deeply (Hanson-Smith 1996: 3). She joined the committee of the Commons Preservation Society (CPS), and supported her sister Miranda in founding the Society for the Diffusion of Beauty in 1876 – known later as The Kyrle Society (named after the philanthropist John Kyrle – ‘The Man of Ross’ [1637–1724]). The aim of the Society was ‘to bring the refining and cheering influences of natural and artistic beauty home to the people; this it purposes to effect by decorating Workmen’s Clubs, Hospitals, and Schools’. Octavia Hill, in her 1875 Letter to Fellow Workers set out her hope:

I hope before this dawning year passes away, to count at least one open space preserved among a waste of houses to be made fair and free for the people. I hope our own tiny plots, backyards and small forecourts, may be fuller of trees or grass or creepers; I hope that at least our club and institute rooms, which are the common sitting rooms of our courts, may be furnished with brighter colour. I hope that we may have a more organized body of singers, led by a conductor whom they know, and ready to sing in out of the way places (1933: 17; Hill 2005: 54-5).

Understood now as an important forerunner to the National Trust, The Kyrle Society involved key figures like Walter Crane, Frederick Leighton and William Morris and set up a series of branches.

In 1877, Octavia Hill collapsed and had to take a break of several months from her work. A number of factors appear to have contributed to her situation – chronic overwork, a lack of delegation, the death of her close friend Jane Nassau Senior, the failure of brief engagement, and an attack on her by John Ruskin (Darley 2004). Octavia Hill had refused to let Ruskin makeover the schemes in which he held a financial stake to what she saw as a shaky company. Ruskin’s mental state was such by this time, that he turned to malevolent attack rather than negotiation. Octavia was found a companion – Harriot Yorke – by her family. Harriot Yorke was able to take on a significant amount of the work and detail that was causing stress – and was to remain with Octavia until her death (an exploration of her contribution and their relationship can be found in Morrell 1996). A further source of relief was the building of a cottage – Larksfield – at Crockham Hill near Edenbridge where they could spend time away from the strains of living in London (her home at 190 Marylebone Road was also the centre for her organizing activities).

Octavia Hill began to work closely with Robert Hunter the honorary secretary of the Commons Preservation Society (CPS) on a number of initiatives and campaigns. Most of her efforts were centred around London, but in 1886 she became involved with Canon Harwick Rawnsley and the Lake District Defence Society over various infringements of rights of way by landowners. Rawnsley saw that some sort of ‘holding trust’ would be a very useful tool in which could be vested the ownership of any threatened land or building (Hanson-Smith 1996: 6). This was something that the CPS could not do. Octavia Hill and Robert Hunter had come to a similar conclusion. Indeed Hunter had proposed the establishment of a land company for ‘the protection of the public interests in the open spaces of the country’. Octavia Hill had suggested it should be called ‘The Commons and Gardens Trust’ with Hunter suggesting ‘National Trust’. It was with the idea of establishing a holding trust that Hill, Hunter and Rawnsley met (the meeting was hosted by the Duke of Westminster). As a result, the National Trust was formed in 1894 and registered early in 1895 (Darley 1990: 300). Octavia Hill played an important – but never formally specified – role in the Trust up until her death. Today it has over 3.5 million members and looks after over 600,000 acres of countryside in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, 700 miles of coastline and over 200 buildings and gardens.

Hill also became involved with the Charity Organization Society (although in later life she did become critical of its approach), and sat on the Royal Commission on the Poor Law (1905) (along with Charles Booth, Beatrice Webb, and George Lansbury). An earlier attempt to invite her to sit on the Royal Commission on Housing (in 1884) – which would have made her the first women to sit on such a Commission – was blocked. She was also active for a number of years as a member of the committee of the Women’s University Settlement, Southwark (now known as Blackfriars Settlement) (see Judge 1996).

Octavia Hill died peacefully at her home on the Marylebone Road, London in August 1912. She was 75. Her sister Miranda had died two years earlier – and Octavia seems to have had at this time ‘the classic symptoms of cancer, with lengthy remissions’ (Darley 1990: 330). Her funeral was a close affair – family, close friends and fellow workers attending. She was buried at Crockham Hill. The revision of Octavia Hill began the moment she died – either running down her achievements or as presenting her as unflawed (Darley 1990: 333). Henrietta Barnett commented that many of the obituary notices failed to capture her character and achievements:

When I read obituary notices of her, crediting her with the commonplace virtues of kindness and unselfishness and gentleness, it annoyed me because those were not her virtues, and enumerating them gave the wrong impression of her character. She was strong-willed – but the strong will was never used for self. She was impatient in little things, persistent with long-suffering in big ones; often dictatorial in manner but humble to self-effacement before those she loved or admired. She had high standards for everyone, for herself ruthlessly exalted ones, and she dealt out disapprobation and often scorn to those who fell below her standards for them, but she somewhat erred in sympathy by urging them to attain her standards for them instead of their own for themselves. (quoted by Darley 1990: 332)

Octavia Hill’s approach to housing

Octavia Hill’s approach was grounded in the belief that people needed to be treated in ways that enhanced their self-respect. In many ways, she echoed the thinking of Samuel Smiles (whose book Self Help first appeared in 1859). Gillian Darley has argued that her orientation drew her to the Charity Organization Society. She was concerned to avoid philanthropic efforts that created dependency. She opened her 1890 Letter to Fellow Workers as follows:

We have made many mistakes with our alms: eaten out the heart of the independent, bolstered up the drunkard in his indulgence, subsidised wages, discouraged thrift, assumed that many of the most ordinary wants of a working man’s family must be met by our wretched and intermittent doles. (Hill 2005)

The poor should be helped to help themselves. In this task, Octavia Hill looked to encourage targeted and monitored intervention. This said, the targeting mostly referred to who was to be worked with. The breadth of the intervention was wide – starting with their housing needs and then quickly attending to questions of employment, leisure and education.

Octavia Hill’s approach had a number of distinctive qualities.

Refurbishment and development

Unlike a number of her contemporaries involved in the reform of housing, Octavia Hill had a strong interest in local solutions and in the redevelopment and enhancement of existing properties. The emphasis was upon extending the number of rooms available to families, improving sanitary conditions, redecoration and improving general conditions in the building e.g. through regular cleaning. Later, as she took on managing housing for others she had to deal with larger blocks. While sometimes being presented as an advocate of block dwelling, Octavia Hill accepted them only to the extent that they existed – and that they were part of what was possible in an urban area like London. Indeed, she was deeply critical of the design, constraints and experience of such housing. While the development and rehabilitation of blocks might offer better sanitary and living conditions, Hill argued that they were:

  • Not necessarily cheaper to construct (and certainly to maintain) than more vernacular forms of housing;
  • Prone to problems in their common parts (hallways, entrances, stairwells and the like). There were issues around behaviour and keeping them tidy and clean. In part this was due to the high-density living involved, but also to other social issues;
  • Often ugly and uninteresting to look at; and
  • Did not allow for the individuality of the family home. There was no room for addition and development, and little opportunity to create a space that people could feel was their own. (See Darley 1990: 272-3; Hill 1892).

Instead, Octavia Hill was a strong advocate of small scale housing, cottages and more mixed housing forms. She was also prepared to experiment. In her 1897 Letter to Fellow Workers she reported on a new development of ‘compound houses’ in Charles Street (now 14-19 Ranston Street), Lisson Grove:

… each of which comes to be practically two distinct cottages one on the top of another. One front door and passage leads to a five-roomed cottage, containing three ground floor rooms and two rooms below with coal cellar, wash-house and small back yard. Another front door leads by a separate staircase to a seven-roomed cottage with three rooms on the first floor and four above. This tenement, too, has separate wash-house, coal cellar and outside staircase which leads down to the yard. It has the advantage of enabling us to get what are practically separate cottages, with little yards, and yet get a somewhat greater height of building than two storeys, so diminishing ground rent without resorting to high blocks. (Hill 1933: 38-9)

At the same time as advocating house as against block building, Octavia Hill was critical of focusing on developing the suburbs. This both flowed from her worries around the impact this was having upon the open land around cities (see below), and what that might mean for what we now called the inner city (in many respects Octavia Hill offered much of the same critique of suburban development as more recent critics – see sustainable communities and neighbourhoods).

Weekly visiting and rent collecting

Octavia Hill looked to move beyond the private landlord’s concern with rent-collecting to a much wider concern to work with people to effect lasting change in their lives:

Our ideal must be to promote the happy natural intercourse of neighbours – mutual knowledge, mutual help…; and it will be better from the start to mould our system so that it shall bear witness of what it ought to become. (Hill 1877: 7)

Once duty to the poor was supposed to consist in giving large alms; once, self-sacrifice and devotion were thought sufficient contributions for a worker among the poor; now it is seen that to these must be added the furthest sight, the wisest thought, the most self-restraining resolution to make a useful worker.

These two classes, gentle doers and wise thinkers, stand far apart, yet, if they could be brought into close communication, both would gain much; the people for whom they are labouring would gain more. (Hill 1877: 7-8)

She was able to draw upon the long-established tradition of district visiting as a way of making sense of the role of her ‘fellow workers’. Octavia Hill sought to create an environment where these volunteers took on significant areas of local responsibility. She looked to make ‘every district visitor the agent in her own district for all the various work carried out there (1872 Letter to Fellow Workers, Hill 2005: 5). While there were disadvantages to such decentralization – there were also significant gains especially with regard to the ability to gain and use local knowledge.

Octavia Hill’s visitors provided help with domestic budgeting, tackling bad landlords, and gaining employment. There was, of course, another side to this deal – tenants had to pay rent regularly and stop anti-social behaviour (Lewis 2005: xxv). Her strictness around this side was well-known and did excite some critical comment – but it was both a natural outcome of her concern for self-respect and of the need for the housing to make a return. Octavia Hill was a strong believer in the 5 per cent philanthropy principle. Those who invested in her housing projects would see a 5 per cent return on their capital. Tenants had to pay their way.

Private and voluntary provision

Octavia Hill hated the notion of subsidy and was against the newly formed London County Council (LCC) being a provider of housing (Darley 1990: 280). As Darley (1990: 281) has put it, ‘Octavia, late in life, was unable to contemplate the housing solution that stared her in the face. Her opinions had been formed and set in the strict school of individualism and distrust of State intervention in any form’. In this, as we have seen, she reflected many of the concerns of the Charity Organization Society (COS). Her orientation was such that she could not see the necessity for large scale intervention of the sort that only the state could facilitate. It was a curious and unfortunate error. The scale of the housing problem was such that it could not be tackled in any meaningful way without the state. The issue with state intervention was not whether it was necessary, but its nature. As we were to witness, there was a temptation to choose quick and easy ‘solutions’ – interventions that were to end with poorly designed buildings and estates, and a disregard for the needs and experiences of tenants and residents (see Hanley 2007). Yet at the same time, there were to be many good examples of state housing and estate design. Had Octavia Hill responded to some of the advances made to her by local authorities such as Kensington, then there might have been more and, thus, stronger examples of smaller scale and more convivial approaches in action.

As well as significant growth in public housing provision – other movements were also underway. One of the most notable of these was in the training and expertise of housing managers. The housing management profession was becoming established – and training programmes were appearing.

Octavia Hill and the need for space and organized play

Red Cross Gardens, Soutwark

In a revealing passage in Octavia Hill’s 1896 Letter to Fellow Workers, we can see how an interest in open space and social activity grew from or was associated with, her concern with the housing of the poor.

It is from the narrow space in rooms and crowded alley that I first learned how the small garden near the narrow court or huge block was the necessary complement of the home – hence Mr Ruskin’s first playground – and all that followed; it was in the colourlessness and unloveliness that I learnt how the colour and music brought by the Kyrle Society were needed; it was in seeing the want of larger out-door space for holidays for bigger children that I learnt to perceive the use of park and hilly-ground, and to notice that where the population was poorest and thickest there was least of such breathing space; hence my desire to join in efforts for Parliament Hill and all subsequent schemes; it was in watching the lives of the poor in long-ago days that I learnt the need for amusements for them, now so largely met on all sides, and importance of companionship in these; it was watching in near relation to our people how much what they did themselves interested and developed them, that led to the training of the tenant’s children to act little plays, and of the tenants to themselves to sing, to act, to cultivate flowers. (Hill 2005: 385)

As we have already seen, Octavia Hill placed a strong emphasis on creating open spaces for people within her developments. These included children’s playgrounds, gardens and meeting rooms. As she argued in ‘Space for the people‘:

There is perhaps no need of the poor of London which more prominently forces itself on the notice of anyone working among them than that of space…. How can it best be given? And what is it precisely which should be given? I think we want four things. Places to sit in, places to play in, places to stroll in, and places to spend a day in. (Hill 1883: 89; 90)

One of the best-known examples of her work in this area was the establishment of the Red Cross Garden in 1887 (right) as an ‘open-air sitting room for the tired inhabitants of Southwark’. She also built six model dwelling cottages to adjoin the gardens and a community hall (it can be seen on the left of the cottages in the picture), then known as Red Cross Hall. She described the hall as a ‘Parish parlour’. Elijah Hoole designed both the hall and cottages (he was also responsible for Toynbee Hall 1884, Bermondsey Settlement 1890 and improvements to the Old Vic Theatre [for Emma Cons] 1879-80). The hall (now known as Bishop’s Hall) provided a reading room, library, and facilities for working men’s clubs, women’s groups, concerts and plays, poetry readings and gymnastics (BOST undated).

Organized play

Keith Cranwell (2001: 44) has argued that the origins of supervised playgrounds in London can be traced back to the work of Octavia Hill. The 1866 Paradise Place development, as we have already seen, involved the provision of a communal room in which various activities (including classes for children) could take place. However, Octavia Hill’s 1867 Freshwater Place development included her first children’s playground (op. cit.: 45). The playground was intended for use both by children from Freshwater Place and neighbouring courts. Keith Cranwell describes it thus (drawing in part on Maurice 1913):

The playground was walled to enaleb the children to play safely at games of ‘bat and ball, trap, swinging, skipping and singing’. The playground also boasted some swings and a see-saw which were very popular pieces of fixed equipment requiring also constant supervision by volunteers for the sake of safety and fairness. The playground was supervised by a paid worker afterschool, Saturdays and during school holidays. (2001: 45)

As with many examples of subsequent, organized provision for children and young people the playground was vandalized during building, and subject to attack by some local children after it opened. There appears to have been resentment at the ‘improving’ nature of the provision, and the fact that people had to pay to use it would have hardly endeared it to local children. Moreover, it could not be used all the time (it doubled as a drying area).

The army cadet units

Octavia Hill is also associated with the promotion and development of cadet units – believing that such a voluntary movement was ‘the surest shield against the aggressiveness of nations with standing armies and that the boys who lived in her courts needed “exercise, obedience, esprit de corps, camping out and many companionship with the gentlemen who would be their officers”‘ (Eagar 1953: 316). The Army Cadet Corps (ACF) had its roots in developments in the late 1850s. At this time local militia units were reorganised into a nation-wide Volunteer Force, the predecessor of the Territorial Army (MoD undated). Some of these units also formed Cadet Companies. In addition, a number of public schools also formed their own independent Cadet units (sometimes known as School Corps). In 1886 F. F. Vane founded a volunteer cadet corps at Toynbee Hall advocating it, as Eagar (1953: 316) put it, ‘as a means of cultivating the virtues of obedience and self-control and of fostering a patriotism which would make for social progress’. However, it was with the founding of Southward Cadet Company by Octavia Hill in 1889 – the first recognized cadet unit – that the movement for independent voluntary youth units took off. She asked Colonel Salmond of the Derbyshire Regiment to set up the Company (at Red Cross Hall) and it soon met with considerable success with numbers being capped at 160 cadets. Octavia Hill advocated army cadet units as against organizations such as the Church Lads’ Brigades as they were more like the ‘real thing’ and thus more attractive to young men ‘who had passed the age of make-believe’ (Eagar 1953: 316). Not unexpectedly given her orientation, she was to later protest strongly against the merging of the volunteer cadet companies and the “Octavia Hill” Cadet Corps into a body under the administrative control of the new Territorial Force in 1908. Octavia Hill was worried that the new organization would lose its educational qualities.

Conclusion – Octavia Hill as a social reformer

As Jane Lewis (2005: xxv-xxvi) has commented at first glance there can seem little in Octavia Hill’s approach and orientation for those currently concerned with addressing social issues and developing housing. Much of her work was small in scale (although there were big projects undertaken in association with the Ecclesiastical Commissioners), individualistic and dependent on voluntary effort. There were clearly situations and circumstances where it could not be made to work (as was the case with her work in Deptford). Furthermore, she was driven by a Christian duty to serve that can seem strange in a ‘profoundly secular society’.

However, Hill’s insistence on living with the poor, on gaining a close knowledge of their problems, on gaining their trust, on respecting their point of view, on sorting-out the day-to-day problem that beset them (the nineteenth-century equivalents of overflowing rubbish bins and broken lifts), and also on fighting for better environment via her campaign for open spaces, was forgotten for too long in the post-war decades, when too many in central and local government thought that ‘system change’ would suffice. (Lewis 2005: xxvi)

More recently, there have been calls for us to rediscover and to explore her contribution. Tristian Hunt (2008), for example, has commented that:

In whatever field of public policy one looks, the shadow of the 19th-century social reformer Octavia Hill stretches out before us… [A]s ministers grapple with re-engineering the welfare state, it is not Keynes, Marx or Giddens who provide the inspiration, but Hill, the most versatile of late Victorian social entrepreneurs. (Hunt 2008)

Hunt argues that the National Trust has re-embraced many of Hill’s founding ideals, and that ‘as the era of Fordist bureaucracies crumbles, the space for pre-statist social enterprise is re-emerging’ (Hunt 2008). The problem with this 1900s civic settlement, he notes, is its dependence on a sense of Christian duty. ‘Is her vision of duty, fellowship, and voluntarism achievable’, he asks, ‘in a post-Christian age’. There are further problems, as we have already seen, in working out the form that state intervention should take, and the ways in which the energies and interests of local people can be articulated and harnessed in social change – because without them the surface can only be scratched.

Octavia Hill believed that she knew best. She was not a natural democrat – but she did listen and as a result, made a lasting contribution to the development of housing provision and neighbourhood life, and to the preservation and creation of space for people to enjoy.

Further reading and references

Darley, Gillian (1990) Octavia Hill: a life. London: Constable. A considerably revised and redesigned edition of the 1990 biography has been published as Octavia Hill: social reformer and founder of the National Trust (London: Francis Boutle Publishers, 2010). This is the standard work on Octavia Hill and the source for a significant amount of the biographical material in this piece. See, also Darley (2004). For those interested in the development of model housing and settlements Gillian Darley’s (2007) Villages of Vision: A Study of Strange Utopias 2e, Five Leaves Publications is indispensable reading.

Hill, Octavia (2005) Letters to Fellow Workers 1872-1911 (edited by Robert Whelan). London: Kyrtle Books. With a lengthy introduction, illustrations, and some useful appendices, this volume with the complete set of letters makes fascinating reading.


Bankside Open Spaces Trust (undated) ‘Red Cross Garden’, Bankside Open Spaces Trust [http://www.bost.org.uk/redcross.php. Accessed August 3, 2008]

Bell, E, Moberly (1942) Octavia Hill. London.

Boyd, Nancy (1982) Josephine Butler, Octavia Hill, Florence Nightingale. Three Victorian women who changed their world. London: Macmillan.

Cranwell, Keith (2001) ‘Street play and organized space for children and young people in London 1860-1920’ in Ruth Gilchrist, Tony Jeffs and Jean Spence (eds.) Essays in the History of Community and Youth Work. Leicester: Youth Work Press.

Darley, Gillian (2004) ‘Hill, Octavia (1838–1912)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford: Oxford University Press. [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/33873, accessed October 27, 2007]

Eagar, W. Mc. G. (1953) Making Men. The history of boys’ clubs and related movements in Great Britain. London: University of London Press.

Hanley, Lynsey (2007) Estates. An intimate history. London: Granta Books.

Hanson-Smith, Christopher (1996) Octavia Hill and Open Spaces 2e. Wisbech: Octavia Hill Society and Birthplace Museum Trust.

Harrison, J. F. C. (1954) A History of the Working Men’s College 1854-1954, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.

Hill, Octavia (1877) District Visiting. [Reprinted from Good Works]. London: Longmans, Green and Co/ Charity Organization Society

Hill, Octavia (1877) Our Common Land. London.

Hill, Octavia (1883) Homes of the London Poor. New edition. London: Macmillan and Co. First published in 1875. Available online: http://www.victorianlondon.org/publications/homesofthelondonpoor.htm

Hill, Octavia (1892) ‘Influence on character’, in Charles Booth The Life and Labour of the People of London Vol. III, London: Williams and Norgate.

Hill, Octavia (1933) Extracts from Octavia Hill’s “Letters to Fellow Workers” 1864 to 1911. Compiled by her niece Elinor Southwood Ouvry. London: The Adelphi Book Shop.

Hill, Octavia (2005) Letters to Fellow Workers 1872-1911 (edited by Robert Whelan). London: Kyrtle Books.

Hunt, Tristian (2008) ‘Octavia Hill revisited’, The Guardian, May 6. [http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2008/may/06/past.housing. Accessed July 30, 2008].

Judge, Betty (1996) Octavia Hill and The Women’s University Settlement. 2e. Wisbech: Octavia Hill Society and Birthplace Museum Trust.

Maurice, C. Edmund (ed.) (1913) Life of Octavia Hill. London: Macmillan.

Mayhew, Henry (1851) London Labour and the London Poor: a cyclopedia of the conditions and earnings of those that will work, those that cannot work, and those that will not work. London: Woodfall.

Ministry of Defence (undated) ‘The history of the Army Cadet Force (ACF)’, About defence. [http://www.mod.uk/DefenceInternet/AboutDefence/WhatWeDo/

ReserveForcesandCadets/DRFC/HistoryOfTheArmyCadetForceacf.htm. Accessed August 4, 2008].

Morrell, Caroline (1996) ‘Octavia Hill and women’s networks in housing’ in Anne Stewart and John Digby (eds). Gender, Health and Welfare, London: Routledge.

Reardon, Bernard M. G. (2004) ‘Maurice, (John) Frederick Denison (1805–1872)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford: Oxford University Press, online edn., May 2006 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/18384, accessed 20 July 2007].

Smiles, Samuel (2002) Self-Help: With Illustrations of Character, Conduct, and Perseverance. Oxford: Oxford World Classics.


Octavia Hill: Space for the people (1883) – available in the infed archives

Octavia Hill Birthplace Museum – http://www.octaviahillsbirthplacehouse.org.uk/

Red Cross Gardens – http://www.bost.org.uk/redcross.php

Acknowledgement: The picture of Octavia Hill is from a Drawing by Edward Clifford, 1877. Sourced from Wikimedia Commons this illustration is said to be in the public domain because it was published (or registered with the U.S. Copyright Office) before January 1, 1923.

The picture of Red Cross Gardens, Southwark is by David Hodgson| flickr ccby2

How to cite this piece: Smith, Mark K. (2008, 2020) ‘Octavia Hill: housing, space and social reform’, The encyclopedia of pedagogy and informal education. [https://infed.org/mobi/octavia-hill-housing-and-social-reform/. Retrieved: insert date].

© Mark K. Smith 2008, 2020