Scope and Content

Letters of Octavia Hill to Canon and Mrs Barnett, focusing upon herphilanthropic activities, church matters and religion.

  • File 1 1873: 2 letters
  • File 2 1874: 2 letters
  • File 3 1875: 8 letters
  • File 4 1876: 9 letters
  • File 5 1877: 23 letters
  • File 6 1878: 14 letters
  • File 7 1879: 8 letters
  • File 8 1880 - 1889: 7 letters
  • File 9 1897 - 1900: 12 letters

Administrative / Biographical History

Octavia Hill 1832 - 1912

Octavia Hill was born at Wisbech, Cambridgeshire. She was the daughter of acorn-merchant who was noted locally for work in municipal and educationalreform. Her mother was Caroline Southwood Smith, daughter of Dr. ThomasSouthwood Smith, who was well-known as an authority on fever epidemics andsanitation. She was educated at home by her mother.

In 1852 she began work in London at the Ladies' Guild, a co-operativeassociation promoted by the Christian Socialists, of which her mother becamemanager. She was soon put in charge of a branch engaged in teaching raggedschool children to make toys. In 1856 Hill became secretary to the classesfor women at the Working Men's College in Great Ormond Street, and a fewyears later she and her sisters started a school at 14 Nottingham Place. Itwas while living here and visiting her poor neighbours that she first becameaware of the urgency of the housing problem. In 1864 she succeeded in makingJohn Ruskin (1819 - 1900), the author, artist and social reformer, interestedin her schemes for improving the dwellings of the poor. He advised Hill toplace the work on a business footing, so that it would be taken up andextended by other people.

Hill was an active supporter of the work of the Charity Organisation Societyfrom its beginnings, and was closely associated with the Kyrle Society(formed by her sister Miranda in 1877). She was also a member of the CommonsPreservation Society, and helped found the National Trust. Although sherefused to join the Royal Commission on Housing (1889), she became a memberof the Royal Commission on the Poor Laws in 1905.


The letters have been arranged chronologically in 9 files.

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