Toynbee Hall’s Olympic Heritage: Pierre de Coubertin

Stories

Today Pierre de Coubertin is best known as the founder of the modern Olympic Games. But he was also an educational reformer with a firm belief in the importance of physical education. He first visited Toynbee Hall in the 1880s and was inspired by the ethos of the settlement and the pioneering social and educational work done by residents.

By Shahana Subhan Begum

De Coubertin came to England in 1883 to visit leading English public schools and Universities where sport was already a key part of the curriculum.  It was during this visit that he first heard about the work of Toynbee Hall. He stayed here himself in 1886. He was deeply impressed by the innovative workers’ education programme, the dedication of the resident Oxbridge graduates and the role that sport played in life of the Settlement. From the on site tennis court to boxing sessions which were popular with local boys.

He later published a book on ‘Education in England’ which included a chapter on Toynbee Hall. His time here helped to cement his belief in sport as a force for “personal and cultural change.”

To learn more about Pierre de Coubertin and Toynbee’s Hall historic connections with the founder of the modern Olympics read the full booklet here.

Samuel and Henrietta Barnett with Toynbee Hall's first residential volunteers, circa 1885
Samuel and Henrietta Barnett with Toynbee Hall's first residential volunteers, 1885