Balliol’s links with Toynbee Hall

Monday 22 May

In Hilary Term 2017, Eleanor Sier, Heritage Learning and Participation Manager at Toynbee Hall, spoke at Bruce’s Brunch about the link between Balliol and Toynbee Hall, an anti-poverty charity based in the East End of London. Below she describes this historic link and invites recollections from Balliol alumni.

The relationship between Balliol College and Toynbee Hall dates back to our foundation over 130 years ago in 1884. Oxford graduates, including many Balliol alumni, came to work as residential volunteers at Toynbee Hall, the world’s first university settlement. They lived within London’s East End community and developed new ways to tackle the issues they saw. These experiences would influence their future careers and as a result, Toynbee Hall became a catalyst for social reform. It has stayed at the forefront of social action, tackling poverty and discrimination, ever since.

Arnold Toynbee (Balliol 1907, Fellow 1912-1915)Toynbee Hall’s own story began in 1873, when Samuel Barnett, a vicar, and his wife, Henrietta Barnett, moved to London’s East End to work in a poverty-stricken parish in Whitechapel. From the church, they ran adult education programmes and art exhibitions, developed a housing company to improve access to affordable housing, and started an organisation to take local children on country holidays. They encouraged their friends to come to stay at the vicarage and give lectures. A regular visitor was Balliol tutor and economic historian Arnold Toynbee (Balliol 1875) (who is known for popularising the expression ‘the Industrial Revolution’), illustrated right.

When Toynbee died in 1883, aged 30, the Barnetts promised to honour his memory. Canon Barnett held meetings in Oxford to discuss his idea of establishing a university settlement in Whitechapel. The first meetings were attended by Balliol men such as A.H.D. Acland (Senior Bursar 1883-1888), A.L. Smith (Fellow from 1882 and later Master), and Bolton King (Balliol 1879), a student who became one of Toynbee Hall’s first residential volunteers when it opened in December 1884.

The relationship continued to develop and in 1890, a new hall of residence was named Balliol House in recognition of the close relationship. Over the course of its existence, Toynbee Hall has benefited from many Balliol alumni volunteers supporting our services, including William Beveridge (Balliol 1897, Honorary Fellow 1939-1963), who developed his ideas for a welfare state whilst in residence; historian and political thinker R.H. Tawney (Balliol 1899, Fellow 1918-1921, Honorary Fellow 1938-1962), who became involved in the Workers’ Educational Association; and retired Lord Justice of Appeal, Sir Henry Brooke (Balliol 1957, Honorary Fellow).

As part of our current heritage project Revealing Social Reform, Renewing Social Action, supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund, we are collecting stories from Toynbee Hall’s past. We would love to hear from anyone who has a link to Toynbee Hall through themselves or a family member: please contact me via

You can read more about Balliol’s links with Toynbee Hall, and the experience of a Balliol volunteer, in Floreat Domus 2010.

Samuel Barnett’s signature appears in the 1883 guest book of Benjamin Jowett (Master 1870-1893) on 26 May:

Guest book of Benjamin Jowett, Balliol Master, 1883

Toynbee Hall, in the East End of London:

Toynbee Hall Open House 2014 (photo: Jeremy Freedman)