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Henrietta Barnett

Henrietta Octavia Barnett, DBE
Born Henrietta Octavia Weston Rowland
(1851-05-04)4 May 1851
Clapham, London, England
Died 10 June 1936(1936-06-10) (aged 85)
Hampstead, London, England
Nationality British
Occupation Humanitarian, educator, author
Spouse(s) Samuel Barnett

Dame Henrietta Octavia Weston Barnett, DBE (née Rowland; 4 May 1851 – 10 June 1936) was a notable English social reformer, educationist, and author. She and her husband, Samuel Augustus Barnett, founded the first 'University Settlement' at Toynbee Hall (in the East End of London) in 1884. They also worked to establish the model Hampstead Garden Suburb in the early 20th century.

Samuel and Henrietta Barnett portrait by Hubert von Herkomer in Toynbee Hall


  • Early life 1
  • Marriage and activism 2
  • Writing 3
  • Honours 4
  • Death and legacy 5
  • References 6
  • Published works 7
  • External links 8

Early life

Born in Clapham, London, Henrietta Octavia Weston Rowland lost her mother at an early age. Her father, Alexander Rowland, a wealthy businessman, raised her and seven siblings at their London home and a country house in Kent, where she developed a lifelong appreciation of country pursuits.[1][2]

At age 16, Henrietta was sent to a boarding school in Devon run by the Haddon sisters, who were committed to social altruism. When her father died in 1869, Henrietta moved with two sisters to Bayswater, where she met and helped social activist and housing reformer Octavia Hill.[3] Hill introduced Henrietta to the writings of John Ruskin, as well as many influential people similarly interested in improving the condition of London's poor.

Marriage and activism

Through Hill, Henrietta met Canon Samuel Barnett, then the curate of St Mary's, Bryanston Square. They married in 1873. The newlyweds soon moved to the impoverished Whitechapel parish of St Jude's, intent on improving social conditions. Henrietta continued her parish visiting activities, with a focus on women and children, including the more than 2000 prostitutes then active in Whitechapel alone.[4] In 1875, Henrietta became a woman guardian for the parish, and the following year was named a school manager for the poor law district schools in Forest Gate. She promoted Homes for Workhouse Girls starting in 1880, and founded the London Pupil Teacher Association in 1891. Henrietta Barnett also served as vice-president of the National Association for the Welfare of the Feeble-Minded (1895) and National Union of Women Workers (1895–96). Another social initiative which the Barnetts jointly helped set up was the Metropolitan Association for the Befriending of Young Servants (1876). Their experiment to send slum children for country holidays grew into the Children's Country Holiday Fund (established 1877).

Toynbee Hall 1902

In 1884, the Barnetts established (and began living at) Toynbee Hall, a pioneering university settlement named after the recently deceased distinguished historian Arnold Toynbee, who had advocated education of the working classes and reduction of the division between social classes. In 1897 annual loan exhibitions of fine art began at the nearby Whitechapel Gallery through the Barnetts' efforts. In 1903 Richard Tawney began working with them and the Children's Holiday Fund, and helped them found the Workers' Educational Association. William Beveridge and Clement Attlee also worked with the Barnetts as they started their own careers. A visit to Toynbee Hall inspired Jane Addams to found Hull House in Chicago, Illinois, USA.

Evergreen Hill, Spaniards Road
1 South Square, Hampstead Garden Suburb, former home of Henrietta Barnett

In 1889 the activist couple acquired a weekend home at Spaniard's End in the Hampstead area of north-west London. The Barnetts became inspired by Ebenezer Howard and the model housing development movement (then exemplified by Letchworth garden city), as well as protecting part of nearby Hampstead Heath from development by Eton College. In 1904, they established trusts which bought 243 acres of land along the newly opened Northern line extension to Golders Green. This became the Hampstead Garden Suburb, a model garden city developed through their efforts and those of architects Raymond Unwin and Sir Edwin Lutyens and which ultimately grew to encompass over 800 acres.[5] In 1909, an adult education institute opened in the middle of the new Hampstead Garden Suburb, with cultural programmes and discussion groups. Soon a school for girls was established and named the Henrietta Barnett School.[6]

Although the suburb was never completely developed according to Lutyens's plan (and soon became a middle class enclave rather than a mixture of classes), it did include Grade I listed St Jude's Church, as well as a clubhouse and a tea house (for non-alcoholic social focus), a Quaker meeting house, children's homes, a nursery school, and housing for old people.

The Barnetts never had children of their own. They adopted Dorothy Woods, and Henrietta also served as legal guardian for her brain-damaged elder sister, Fanny. After Samuel died in 1913, Henrietta founded Barnett House at Oxford (1914) in his memory. She helped it become the university's centre for social work and social policy education.


Barnett wrote several books, alone and with her husband.[7] Their Christian Socialist beliefs are set out in Practicable Socialism (1889) and Toward Social Reform (1909).

Her early books concerned domestic issues: The Making of the Home (1885), How to Mind the Baby, (1887) and, written with her husband and Ernest Abraham Hart (her brother-in-law), The Making of the Body (1894). With Kathleen Mallam, Henrietta Barnett also edited a collection of essays entitled Destitute, Neglected, and Delinquent Children (Pan-Anglican papers, 1908). After her husband's death, Henrietta Barnett finished their Illustrated British Ballads Old and New (1915), wrote his multi-volume biography, Canon Barnett: his life, work and friends (1918) as well as published collections of essays, most notably Matters that Matter (1930).


For her work as a social reformer, Barnett was named a Commander of the British Empire in 1917, and elevated to Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) in 1924. In 1920, she was named honorary president of the 480 member American Federation of Settlements.

Dame Henrietta Barnett memorial, Hampstead Garden Suburb, London NW11

Death and legacy

For the final dozen years of her life, Henrietta Barnett took up painting and often lived at 45 Wish Road, Hove (today marked by a blue plaque).

She died at Hampstead in 1936 (aged 85) and is buried (with Samuel) in the churchyard of St Helen's Church, Hangleton, East Sussex.[8] The Barnetts are jointly remembered on 17 June on the liturgical calendar of the Church of England.


  1. ^ Profile,; accessed 30 March 2014.
  2. ^ Smith, M.K., The Encyclopaedia of Informal Education profile of "Henrietta Barnett, social reform and community building" (2007) is available here
  3. ^
  4. ^
  5. ^
  6. ^ Henrietta Barnett School infosite; accessed 30 March 2014.
  7. ^ "BARNETT, Mrs. (Henrietta Octavia)". Who's Who 59: p. 97. 1907. 
  8. ^ Dale, Antony (1989). Brighton Churches. London EC4. p. 227.  

Published works

  • Barnett, Henrietta Rowland (1885). The Making of the Home. A reading-book of domestic economy for school and home use (pdf). London: Cassell and Company. 
  • Barnett, Henrietta Rowland (1894). The Making of the Body. A children's book on anatomy and physiology : for school and home use. London: Longmans, Green. 
  • Barnett, Samuel Augustus; Henrietta Barnett (1972) [1888, 1895 rev.ed]. Practicable Socialism: Essays on Social Reform (pdf). Freeport, New York: Books for Libraries Press. 
  • Barnett, Samuel Augustus; Henrietta Barnett (1909). Towards Social Reform. New York: Macmillan Co. 
  • Barnett, Henrietta Rowland (1919). Canon Barnett: His Life, Work, and Friends (pdf). Houghton Mifflin. 
  • Barnett, Henrietta Rowland (1930). Matters that Matter. London: J. Murray. 

External links

  • Hartley, Cathy; Susan Lecky (2003). A Historical Dictionary of British Women. London and New York: Routledge imprint of Taylor & Francis.  
  • Creedon, Alison (2006). 'Only a Woman' Henrietta Barnett.Social Reformer and Founder of Hampstead Garden Suburb. Chichester: Phillimore. 
  • Koven, Seth (2004). 'Dame Henrietta Octavia Weston Barnett' in Matthew, H. C. G. and Harrison, B. (eds.) Oxford Dictionary of National Biography Volume 3. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 
  • Slack, Kathleen M. (1982). Henrietta's Dream: A chronicle of Hampstead Garden Suburb 1905–1982,. London. 
  • Watkins, Mickey (2005). Henrietta Barnett in Whitechapel: Her First Fifty Years. London. 
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