Icons of Toynbee Hall: Charles Ashbee


Arts and Crafts Architect and Designer Charles Robert Ashbee was one of Toynbee Hall's early residents, following his studies at Cambridge University. Ashbee stuck to his principles staunchly whilst at Toynbee Hall, to the extent he felt compelled to leave the settlement after just two years. Nevertheless, in that time Ashbee left a legacy, notably Toynbee Hall’s modern logo. Read the full Ashbee factsheet here.

By Dan Scales


Ashbee was an unusual resident. He arrived ‘as a sop to my own conscience, having now for three years talked philanthropy, I’m desirous of doing something. Yet I mistrust myself and this place also; myself for insincerity, Toynbee Hall for what seems a top-hatty philanthropy’.[1] He was equally apprehensive about his own work, an idealistic evening course for East End workers titled ‘Language, Literature, and Morals’.[2] He initially described his students as ‘grimed with dirt and utterly depraved… very primitive’.[3] However, all his fears proved unfounded: Instead of ‘top hatty philanthropy’, Ashbee found ‘splendid men’ and ‘silent unostentatious heroism’. Instead of being ‘weary’ and ‘primitive’, the workers exhibited ‘keenness, strength, and enthusiasm’.[4]

[1] C. R. Ashbee’s Papers, 6th June 1886 [King’s College Library, Cambridge, CRA/1/2]

[2] Annual Report 1887 [Toynbee Hall archives, London Metropolitan Archives, City of London], 15

[3] Ashbee’s Papers, January 1887 [CRA/1/3]

[4] Ibid., 22nd – 30th November 1886 [CRA/1/2]

Crawford, C. R. Ashbee, 27-31

[4] Ibid., 22nd – 30th November 1886 [CRA/1/2]

Crawford, C. R. Ashbee, 27-31

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