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.