While living in Finchley, Octavia was influenced by her maternal grandfather, Dr. Thomas Southwood Smith. He was “the Physician to Mankind”, a friend of Jeremy Bentham and tireless campaigner for decent living conditions for poor people.
In 1851, the family moved into London, where the grim urban poverty horrified Octavia. Caroline Hill managed the Ladies Guild, a co-operative enterprise, designed to empower women by giving them economic independence. At this time, Octavia wrote the entries in her “Commonplace Book”, containing extracts of her readings and accounts of lectures she attended, which can be seen at the Birthplace House.
Other early influences on Octavia’s life were F.D. Maurice, the leader of the Christian Socialists, who inspired her confirmation into the Anglican Church, and the influential art critic John Ruskin, who was disenchanted with the existing social order.