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Barnett, Samuel A.

in: People


Samuel Augustus Barnett (1844 – 1913) — English Clergyman, Social Reformer and Founder of Toynbee Hall


Samuel Augustus Barnett by George Frederic Watts, oil on canvas, 1887
Samuel Augustus Barnett by George Frederic Watts, oil on canvas, 1887
Photo: National Portrait Gallery
NPG ID: NPG 2893

Samuel Augustus Barnett was born in Bristol on February 8, 1844, a son of Francis Barnett, an iron manufacturer, and his wife Mary (nee Gilmore). He was educated at home and at Wadham College, Oxford. He taught for a while at Winchester College before traveling to America. It was this visit to the United States that provided Barnett with his important education. When he returned to England in December 1867 to be a curate at St. Mary’s Church, Bryanston Square, London and took priest’s orders in 1868. In 1873, he married Henrietta Octavia Rowland (1851–1936), an heiress, social reformer and author, who had been a co-worker of Miss Octavia Hill. She was a daughter of Alexander and Henrietta Rowland and was born in Clapham on May 4, 1851.

Both were social reformers with broad cultural interests. Later that year, the Barnett’s moved to the impoverished Whitechapel parish of St. Jude’s intent on improving social conditions in one of London’s worst slums. The East End area was notorious for its squalor and overcrowded housing conditions, as well as prostitution and other criminal activities. The Barnett’s worked hard for the poor of their parish: opening evening schools for adults, providing them with music and entertainment, and serving on the local board of guardians and on the managing committees of schools. Barnett discouraged outdoor relief but at the same time, the Barnett’s helped improve conditions of indoor relief, and co-ordinate the various charities by co-operation with the recently created Charity Organization Society and the parish board of guardians.

In 1875 historian Arnold Toynbee paid the first of many visits to Whitechapel. In 1877, Barnett, who kept in constant touch with Oxford formed a small committee, over which he presided, to consider the organization of a university extension in London. The committee received influential support, and in October four courses of lectures were given in Whitechapel.

In 1884 an article by Barnett in the Nineteenth Century Magazine suggested the idea of university settlements. The idea was to create a place where students from Oxford University and Cambridge could work among, and improve the lives of the poor during their holidays. According to Barnett, the role of the students was “to learn as much as to teach; to receive as much to give”. This article resulted in the formation of the University Settlements Association.

Later that year Barnett and his wife established Toynbee Hall, Britain’s first university settlement. Most residents held down jobs in the City, or were doing vocational training, and so gave up their weekends and evenings to do relief work. This work ranged from visiting the poor and providing free legal aid to running clubs for boys and holding University Extension lectures and debates; the work was not just about helping people practically, it was also about giving them the kinds of things that people in richer areas took for granted, such as the opportunity to continue their education past the school leaving age.

In 1888 Jane Addams and Ellen Gates Starr visited Toynbee Hall.  Addams later wrote: “It is a community for University men who live there, have their recreation and clubs and society all among the poor people, yet in the same style they would live in their own circle. It is so free from professional doing good, so unaffectedly sincere and so productive of good results in its classes and libraries so that it seems perfectly ideal.” The women were so impressed with what they saw that the returned to the United States and established Hull House, on Chicago’s West Side. The settlement movement grew rapidly both in Britain, the United States and the rest of the world.

Samuel Barnett died in 1913. 

Sources:  Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:

Westminster Abbey – www.westminster–

Spartacus Educational–

How to Cite this Article (APA Format): Social Welfare History Project. (2013). Samuel Augustus Barnett (1844-1913) — English clergyman, social reformer and founder of Toynbee Hall. Social Welfare History Project. Retrieved [date accessed] from