In 1864, John Ruskin, at Octavia’s persuasion purchased three houses in Paradise Place. He gave them to Octavia Hill to manage. The aim was to make “lives noble, homes happy and family life good” in this, one of the most notorious London slums, known as “Little Hell”.
Octavia’s determination, personality and skill transformed poverty-stricken houses in three London streets: Paradise Place, Freshwater Place and Barrett’s Court, into tolerably harmonious communities. Communal facilities such as meeting halls, savings clubs and dramatic productions were established, enhancing the lives of tenants. She is seen as the founder of modern social casework.
Octavia Hill’s consistent, methodical approach and her use of the trained volunteers she called “Fellow Workers” laid the foundations of the modern profession of housing management. Her methods, personal, friendly and supportive, successfully redeemed slum areas and created healthy communities.
By placing articles about her work in influential magazines, Octavia drew attention to the appalling conditions of the times and to her method of improving the quality of life of those she was responsible for. These articles, later published as “Homes for the London Poor”, attracted influential patrons, including Princess Alice, Queen Victoria’s second daughter, who translated the book into German and visited Barrett’s Court incognito.
Latterly her methods spread to several other countries, including Holland, Ireland and the USA, where the Octavia Hill Association still flourishes in Philadelphia.
Eventually ownership of some of the properties where Octavia had first tried and tested her management methods were vested in the Horace Street Trust. This became a model for subsequent housing associations, becoming today’s Octavia Housing and Care.
After a bitter quarrel in the 1870s, they did not meet again, but when he died in 1901, Octavia Hill wrote:
“Since my letter to fellow-workers went to press, I have seen that Mr Ruskin is gone before. The earth seems indeed sadder and poorer that such a man lives on it no more.
To me the news brings up such a crowd of holy and lovely memories of all that he was and did in the far away years, that I am lost in the sense of tender reverence.That penetrating sympathy, that marvellous imagination, that grasp of expression, that high ideal of life have not only blessed his friends, but have left their mark on England. His thoughts have so pervaded thousands of homes that England is better, greater, and more attuned to noble ideals than she could have been but for his life and writings”
Today, the St. George’s Guild, founded by Ruskin in 1817, aims to promote the advantages of education and training in the fields of rural economy, industrial design and craftsmanship and appreciation of the arts.
Homes for the London Poor Octavia Hill placed articles in influential magazines.Read it here
In 1994, the Octavia Hill Birthplace Museum Trust (registered charity no.1018947) purchased part of the house, opening a museum that is entirely run by volunteers. It attracts visitors from all over the world.
In 2007, the Trust purchased the rest of Octavia Hill’s Birthplace House. Funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, the European Regional Development Fund and a fundraising appeal, the reunification project was completed in 2009.
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