Founder of Toynbee Hall: Samuel Barnett


Samuel Barnett and his wife Henrietta were the founders of Toynbee Hall. Barnett was also our first Warden.  In the 1870s he was vicar of St Jude's Church in Whitechapel. But he wanted to find new ways to help his poverty-stricken parishioners. The Barnetts came up with the idea of a University Settlement where resident graduate volunteers could live and work among the people of the East End.

By Jo Till

Opened in 1884, Toynbee Hall was the first Settlement scheme in the world. Most of the early residents were Oxbridge graduates. Barnett encouraged them to make use of their skills and knowledge by getting involved in social and educational work in the local community. In turn, he hoped the ‘settlers’ would also learn from their East End neighbours. Barnett believed that everyone should have access to education, literature, art and music.  From its earliest days, Toynbee Hall ran lectures and classes and hosted concerts and art exhibitions which were open to local residents. As Barnett put it

what is good enough for the University is good enough for East London.

Barnett was a shy and modest man who looked older than his years. He was an unlikely pioneer. But he become a respected public figure and, by the time he  died in 1913, his influence extended well beyond the doors of Toynbee Hall. By that point there were more than 400 Settlements established across America. Today there are Settlements all over the world, from London to Tokyo. But his legacy lives on most clearly in the work still done by Toynbee Hall and its staff and volunteers. To find out more about Samuel Barnett’s life and work read the full booklet here.

Warden Samuel Barnett with residential volunteers at Toynbee Hall, c. 1903.
Warden Samuel Barnett with residential volunteers at Toynbee Hall, circa 1903.
Samuel and Henrietta Barnett  [Catalogue reference: LMA_4683_IMG_01_01_004]