Founder of Toynbee Hall: Henrietta Barnett

Stories

In 1884 Henrietta Barnett and her husband Samuel founded the first University Settlement at Toynbee Hall. The Settlement enabled Oxbridge graduates to live and work among the poor of the East End. Henrietta was actively involved in the work of Toynbee Hall. She was a determined campaigner and social reformer with an “irrepressible will”.  But her contribution has often been overlooked in favour of a focus on her husband. So who was the woman behind the man?  

By Tijen Zahide Horoz

Henrietta was born into a wealthy West London family. But she developed an early interest in social work and philanthropy. When the Barnetts married and moved to Whitechapel in 1873 Henrietta was shocked by the squalid living conditions and horrendous poverty she saw around her. She threw herself into working with the vulnerable women and children of the East End.

She founded a long-running scheme to help vulnerable young women in Whitechapel escape the lure of prostitution and find respectable work in service. She also helped to establish the Children’s Country Holiday fund which operated from Toynbee Hall for over 100 years. Henrietta was also at the heart of artistic and cultural life at Toynbee Hall. She organised classical concerts and selected pictures for the annual Whitechapel Art Exhibitions, which led to the foundation of the Whitechapel Gallery. She later went on to found Hampstead Garden Suburb and the Henrietta Barnett School in Hampstead, which is still running today.

To find out more about Henrietta’s life and work read the full booklet here.

Portrait of Samuel and Henrietta Barnett.
Canon and Mrs Barnett by Hubert von Herkomer in Toynbee Hall
Samuel and Henrietta Barnett and Toynbee Hall's first residents, 1885.