Octavia Hill (3 December 1838 – 13 August 1912) was an English social reformer, particularly concerned with the welfare of the inhabitants of cities, specifically London, in the second half of the 19th century.[1] Hill was a moving force behind the development of social housing, including Council housing, and she also campaigned for the availability of open spaces for poor people, which resulted in the establishment of the National Trust. She was also a founder member of the Charity Organisation Society (now the charity Family Action) which organised charitable grants and pioneered a home-visiting service that formed the basis for modern social work. She was a member of the Royal Commission on the Poor Laws in 1905.

Personal life

Hill was born in Wisbech, Cambridgeshire, and worked closely with her sister Miranda Hill (1836–1910), who founded the Kyrle Society. Octavia was the eighth daughter of James Hill, corn merchant and banker, and Caroline Southwood Smith, the daughter of Dr Thomas Southwood Smith, the pioneer of sanitary reform. Both sisters worked for the preservation of open spaces.

Public life

Octavia Hill knew a great many notable Victorian artists and writers. To give but one example; at a party at George MacDonald's house John Ruskin formally started off a large dance with Octavia Hill as his dancing partner. It was Ruskin who funded her first ventures in housing reform in 1864 by financing the lease of three slum properties in Marylebone, London. By the time of her death in 1912, her property portfolio had greatly extended (actual figure unknown) and, through a network of women volunteers, was managing at least 2,000 (possibly many more) dwellings.

She was influenced very much by the important theologian, Anglican priest and social reformer Frederick Denison Maurice. Her study of Maurice inspired her confirmation into the Anglican Church.[2] His son, Colonel Edmund Maurice edited her letters, which give a good insight into her life. He published Life of Octavia Hill as Told in her Letters (London, 1913). Her publications include: Homes of the London Poor (1875) and Our Common Land (1877).

Army Cadet Force

In 1859, she created the Southwark detachment of the Army Cadet Force, the first independent unit.

The Army Cadet Force (ACF) is a British youth organisation that offers progressive training in a multitude of the subjects from military training to adventurous training (such as Outward Bound) and first aid, at the same time as promoting achievement, discipline, and good citizenship, to boys and girls aged 12 to 18 year olds and 9 months. Its affiliated organisation, the Combined Cadet Force provides similar training within various schools. It has connections to the training of the British Army.

Although sponsored by the Ministry of Defence and being very similar in structure and activity, the ACF is not a branch of the British Armed Forces, and as such cadets are not subject to military 'call up'. A proportion of cadets do, however, go on to enlist in the armed forces in later life, and many of the organisation's leaders - formally termed 'Cadet Force Adult Volunteers', or informally 'Adult Instructors' - come from a previous cadet service or military background.

The ACF can trace its beginnings back to 1859, when it was formed in order to prepare youths to enlist in the army in anticipation of an invasion of Britain by the French. It remained in existence after no invasion materialised, thanks in part to the influence of pioneer social worker Octavia Hill, because of its positive benefits on youths. The ACF is a registered charity.


A monument to Octavia Hill is to be found at a Surrey beauty spot, on the summit of a hill called Hydon Ball (now owned by the National Trust). Shortly after her death, the family erected a stone seat there, from which walkers can enjoy fine views over the Surrey countryside. There is also the Octavia Hill Birthplace Museum in Wisbech.

In 1995, to mark the centenary of the National Trust, a rose was named in her honour.

There is an Octavia Hill Society, as well as an Octavia Hill Association, a small, Philadelphia-based real estate company that was formerly devoted to providing affordable housing to low and middle-income city residents. Octavia Housing and Care is also the name of a Kensington based Social Housing Landlord that continues the work of Octavia Hill and is led by Chief Executive Grahame Hindes.

Those women who had trained under Octavia Hill formed the Association of Women Housing Workers in 1916. This later changed its name to the Society of Housing Managers in 1948, and, after merging with the Institute of Housing Managers in 1965, became the present day Chartered Institute of Housing in 1994. The CIH is a professional body for those working in the housing profession in the UK and overseas (most notably in Hong Kong).

The training that Octavia Hill delivered to Charity Organisation Society volunteers contributed to the development of modern social work, and COS continued to be instrumental in developing social work as a profession during the twentieth century[3]. COS is still in operation today as the charity Family Action.


  1. Gillian Darley, Hill, Octavia (1838–1912), Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 accessed 4 June 2006
  3. [(1972)Rooff, A Hundred Years of Family Welfare (London:Michael Joseph)]

This article incorporates text from the Encyclopædia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, a publication now in the public domain.

Further reading

  • Octavia Hill and the social housing debate : essays and letters (1998), IEA Health and Welfare Unit, ISBN 0255364318 (with Robert Whelan)
  • Homes of the London Poor (2007), Kessinger Publishing, ISBN 1432654225
  • Octavia Hill: a Life by Gillian Darley, Constable (1990)
  • Our Common Land, and other short essays (1877)
  • House Property & its Management. Some papers on the methods of management introduced by Miss Octavia Hill, etc. Chiefly selected from her writings, and edited by M. M. Jeffery and Edith Neville (1921)
  • Life of Octavia Hill as told in her letters Edited by C. Edmund Maurice (1913)
  • Memorandum on the Report of the Royal Commission on the Poor Laws and Relief of Distress. (1909)
  • Further Account of the Walmer Street Industrial Experiment (1872)
  • Colour, Space, and Music for the People (1884)
  • Octavia Hill: Early ideals. with Emily Southwood Maurice, Allen and Unwin (1928)
  • Octavia Hill's Letters to Fellow - Workers 1872 - 1911: Together with an Account of the Walmer Street Industrial Experiment by Robert Whelan, Kyrle Books, (2005) ISBN 0954891406
  • Josephine Butler, Octavia Hill, Florence Nightingale: Three Victorian Women Who Changed Their World by Nancy Boyd, Palgrave Macmillan, (1984) ISBN 0333376366
  • Octavia Hill: a Biography by E. Moberly. Bell, Constable (1942) ISBN B000JFVEDS

External links

This page uses content from the English Wikipedia. The original article was at Octavia Hill. The list of authors can be seen in the page history.

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