Icons of Toynbee Hall: Arnold Toynbee


Arnold Toynbee was a passionate social reformer and a friend of the Barnetts. During his short life he worked tirelessly to improve conditions for the poor. He was a regular visitor to Whitechapel and, when he died aged only 30, the Barnetts were inspired to name their East End Settlement in his memory. His legacy created an enduring link between Toynbee Hall and Balliol College, where Toynbee studied and taught.

By Celia Toynbee

As a young student Arnold Toynbee spent summers in Whitechapel to see first-hand how the poor lived. He was a powerful speaker described by an Oxford friend as “the most eloquent man I have ever met”. He became involved in a wide range of philanthropic activities. From working as a Poor Law Guardian to campaigning for free libraries and workers’ housing. After Toynbee’s death in 1883 the Barnetts attended a packed memorial service at Balliol Chapel. It was then that Henrietta was struck by the idea of naming their innovative East End Settlement in his honour.


As I sat on that Sunday afternoon among the crowd of strong-brained, clean-living men, the thought flashed to me let us call the Settlement Toynbee Hall...our new Settlement received its name before a brick was laid or the plans concluded”

To learn more about Arnold Toynbee and his life and work read the full booklet here.