Icons of Toynbee Hall: Charles Ashbee


The Arts and Crafts designer and architect Charles Robert Ashbee was an early resident of Toynbee Hall. He was critical of Barnett’s leadership and stayed only two years. But in that short time he left a lasting legacy. The Tree of Life motif designed by Ashbee is still used as Toynbee Hall’s logo today.  

By Dan Scales

Like other early residents, Ashbee was influenced by the ideas of the philosopher Thomas Hill Green. His emphasis on practical social work appealed to Ashbee, who arrived at Toynbee Hall “desirous of doing something”. He was surprised by the talent and enthusiasm of local workers and impressed by the dedication of his fellow residents.

Whilst at Toynbee Hall he set up the Guild and School of Handicraft to teach East End workers traditional craft techniques. The Guild was a success and went on to open a high-end shop in Mayfair in 1899. The Guild also decorated the dining room at Toynbee Hall. The Oxbridge college crests they painted and a version of Ashbee’s Tree of Life design are still there today.

To discover more about Ashbee and his time at Toynbee Hall read the full booklet here.

© Guild of Handicraft Trust. www.courtbarn.org.uk