Samuel Barnett and the East End Dwellings Company

Stories

The East End Dwellings Company was the first to build good quality housing for very poor and casual workers in the East End. It was founded in 1882 by a group of local philanthropists led by Samuel Barnett.  Pioneers of what we would now call social housing, they fought to lift the very poorest out of the squalor of the slums.

By Artemis Photiadou

The Barnetts and other social reformers like Octavia Hill tried to draw attention to the appalling living conditions in London’s East End. As the law failed to protect vulnerable tenants, members of the East End Dwellings Company took matters into their own hands. Other housing associations like Peabody imposed strict rules about who could live in their properties. They also required references from tenants’ employers. In contrast, the East End Dwellings Company aimed to house the “very poor”. It did not require references or impose other rules that might exclude casual or itinerant workers.

In 1885 its first ‘dwelling’, Katharine Buildings, opened in Cartwright Street, close to the Tower of London. The building included 281 “very healthy” rooms and inhabitants quickly began to notice an improvement in their own health. By 1899 around 6,000 Londoners were living in 7 buildings built by the Company.

To learn more about the ground-breaking work of the East End Dwellings Company read the full booklet here.