Page:Life of Octavia Hill as told in her letters.djvu/211

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CH. V
189
FIRST THOUGHT OF HOUSING-REFORM

and the rather dreary, commonplace life in the hydropathic establishment at Ben Rhydding, brought her in contact with Mr. Cockerell, who became one of her most helpful fellow-workers; while the need of assistance, caused by the turbulence of the children in the playground, made specially valuable the staunch fellow-work of Miss Harriet Harrison and her sister Emily.

Another friend, who came forward to help, when Octavia was obliged to go to Italy and Ben Rhydding on account of her health, was Mrs. Godwin, the sister-in-law of George MacDonald. The management of the houses had devolved on Emily, who found in Mrs. Godwin's firm and gentle influence the greatest assistance in those early difficult days in Freshwater Place. With regard to the housing problem, my wife gives the following account of the incident which first fixed Octavia's mind on the subject:

"When we went to Nottingham Place, Octavia arranged to have a weekly gathering in our kitchen, of the poor women whom we knew, to teach them to cut out and make clothes. One night, one of the women fainted; and we found out that she had been up all the previous night washing, while she rocked her baby's cradle with her foot. Next day, Octavia went to the woman's home, and found her living in a damp, unhealthy kitchen. Octavia was most anxious to help her to move into more healthy quarters, and spent a long time hunting for rooms; but could find none where the children would be taken. Then all she had heard as a child about the experiences of her grandfather, Dr. Southwood-Smith, in East London, and all she had known of the toy-workers' homes, rushed back on her mind; and she realised that even at her very doors there was the same great evil. With this in her mind, she went to take her drawings to Ruskin, not long after the death of his father. He was burdened by the responsibility of the fortune that he had just inherited, and told Octavia how puzzled he was as to the best use to make of it. She at once suggested the provision of better houses for the poor. He replied that he had not time to see to such things; but asked whether, if he supplied the capital for buying a tenement house, she could undertake the management. He should like to receive five per cent, on his