Women who changed the world

A key player in the campaign for social reform is the subject of the second lecture in a series on the sisterhood of women who worked side by side with Wisbech’s most famous daughter, Octavia Hill.

Dame Henrietta Barnett, who founded the first University Settlement at Toynbee Hall in the borough of Tower Hamlets in the East End of London with her husband, Samuel, in 1884, comes under the spotlight in a talk at Octavia Hill’s Birthplace House on Saturday, June 30.

In the year that marks the centenary of the triumph of the Suffragettes in Britain in 1918, the museum at 7 South Brink is celebrating ‘Octavia’s women’, the sorority of campaigners who joined hands with Octavia Hill, a co-founder of the National Trust, in the fight for reform.

Students at Oxford and Cambridge went to live at Toynbee Hall to undertake social work in deprived areas of the East End, with the settlement movement subsequently spreading rapidly across the United States and the United Kingdom – and the charity based at the hall remains committed to working towards a future without poverty.

Henrietta Barnett and her husband also worked to establish the model Hampstead Garden Suburb in the early twentieth century, and she gave her assistance to Octavia Hill, who introduced her to influential people with a passion for improving the lot of London’s poor.   The two women shared not only a cause but also a name and Henrietta’s middle name was also Octavia.

The lecture at 2pm at the Birthplace House by Micky Watkins, the archivist at the Hampstead Garden Suburb, is set to be limited to half an hour with a further half hour for questions, and all those attending are asked to contribute a minimum donation of £3.

The next talk in the series, on Saturday, July 28, is on Emma Baumgartner, who lived at the eighteenth century Island Hall on the banks of the Great Ouse in the centre of Godmanchester, which was described by Octavia Hill as the loveliest, dearest old house that she had ever visited.   The speaker is the present owner of the hall, Christopher Vane Percy, a descendant of Emma Baumgartner.

Mr Peter Clayton, chairman of the Octavia Hill Birthplace Museum Trust, said:  “The distinctive feature of Octavia Hill’s work was that her fellow workers were women.   We are celebrating in this series of talks her close associates and friends who were fellow workers in this joint enterprise.”