Life of Octavia Hill as told in her letters/Chapter 7
The Open Space Movement
The period recorded in the following letters marks the inauguration of a movement, which Octavia considered almost as important as that housing work with which her name is especially connected—the movement for the preservation of open spaces. It will be remembered that, in her first efforts to deal with tenement houses, she had been particularly anxious to secure a house with a garden; and, failing that, she had devoted a large part of her energies to laying out a play-ground, and brightening it by May Festivals, in which efforts she had the hearty co-operation of Mr. Ruskin, who sent his own gardener to plant the trees.
It was natural, therefore, that she should desire to keep open all outlets for her poor friends in Marylebone, which would enable them to enjoy the fresh air and open country.
Hence she became considerably alarmed, when she heard, in 1873, that some difficulties, which had hindered the destruction of the fields near the Swiss Cottage, had been removed; and that building plans were in preparation. The fields were dear to her, not only as the nearest country outlet for the Marylebone poor; but also as recalling her childhood, when they formed part of a wide stretch of open country where she and her sisters had played. She at once threw herself into the promotion of a scheme for saving these fields from the builder, and securing them as a recreation ground for the public. She enlisted the sympathy of Dean Stanley, Mr. Haweis and other well known Londoners in the movement; while Mr. Edward Bond and Mr. C. L. Lewes and other Hampstead residents tried to stave off the encroachments of the builders from Hampstead. But the agent, who had the building scheme in hand, when he found that the purchase money was likely to be raised, succeeded in throwing such difficulties in the way, that the scheme was defeated; and Fitzjohn's Avenue rose upon the ruins of the memories and hopes, which I have described.
About the same time Octavia's attention was called to the attempt of some members of the Society of Friends to build over the Bunhill Fields burial ground; an attempt obviously dangerous to health, and shocking to the feelings of many whose friends and relations were buried in the ground. Again, after a struggle, Octavia was defeated in her attempt to save the whole of the ground.
These defeats convinced her of the desirability of rousing public opinion to the need of open space and fresh air for the poor; and it was while she was considering this matter that her sister Miranda read, to the pupils at Nottingham Place, a paper on the need of bringing beauty home to the people. This was a scheme, first, for decorating clubs and hospitals and other institutions used by the poor; secondly, for bringing first-class music within their reach; and, lastly, for preserving disused burial grounds and other open spaces. Octavia was so much impressed with her sister's suggestions that she persuaded Miranda to read her paper again before a meeting of the National Health Society. How much the movement was in advance of the public opinion of that time was shown by more than one incident.
Even on the very occasion when Miranda read her paper to the National Health Society a pause followed the reading; and then a lady started up, and tried to turn away discussion from the subject of the paper by introducing a reference to some new invention, which she considered much more important to health than the securing of open spaces could be. Octavia at once rose, and recalled the audience to the subject of the paper; and some sympathy was roused in the audience.
But, outside that circle, a chorus of scorn came from comic and Society papers; and, if mockery could have stifled a movement, this one would have been nipped in the bud. But cold water sometimes makes such things grow. Several notable and helpful people came to its support; and I well remember that one gentleman was stirred, by the attacks of Punch, to send a subscription to the new Society.
The name of the Man of Ross was chosen as the most fitting, badge of the new movement, and Her Royal Highness Princess Louise consented to become the President. Thus the Society which began with a small knot of friends, meeting at Nottingham Place, became widely useful, and Kyrle Societies were formed in other parts of the country, while the London Decorative branch was assisted by such artists as Leighton and William Morris, and the Musical branch was helped for many years by Malcolm Lawson.
When a sub-committee was formed for dealing with open spaces, a very zealous and energetic lady was chosen as Honorary Secretary. She was full of the wrongs suffered by the poor, in the destruction of their rights over commons. Octavia was no less impressed with these grievances; and she took an active share in the work of the Commons Preservation Society; but she felt that the Kyrle Society had a different function from that of the larger and more combative body; and that to secure open spaces, and lay out disused burial grounds, was a work which could not be joined on to the struggles for legal rights undertaken by the Commons Preservation Society. As the Honorary Secretary of the Open Spaces Committee was unable to recognise the desirability of the separation between these two kinds of work, she resigned, and I took her place for a time. Like all good work, this movement led to unexpected consequences; and while much of the preservation of Metropolitan Open Spaces was afterwards undertaken by the Metropolitan Boulevards Association, Octavia, as will be shown later on, took an active part in still wider developments of this and similar undertakings.
Thus it will be seen that the Open Spaces movement had a great many branches . . . and its growth was well summarised by Octavia in a remark to her sister Miranda.
"When I first began the work, people would say, "I will give money for necessaries for the poor; but I do not see what they want with recreation." Then after a few years, they said, "I can understand poor people needing amusement; but what good will open spaces do them? And now everybody recognises the importance of open spaces."
This change of public opinion was, no doubt, produced by the joint action of many people; and amongst Octavia's fellow-workers in this matter none was more sympathetic and efficient than Mr. (now Sir Robert) Hunter. He had taken an active part in the formation of the Open Spaces Committee of the Kyrle Society; as Solicitor of the Commons Preservation Society, he had been able to further, by timely advice, many of the movements for securing the legal rights of the public over various commons and greens; and, while residing in Lincoln's Inn Fields, he had been the soul of an attempt (then indeed a failure, but the prelude to a more successful effort) to persuade the municipal authorities to throw open the garden of Lincoln's Inn Fields to the general public. Indeed, with the possible exception of Lord Eversley, the open spaces movement owes more to him than to any other man.
But it will be easily understood that this important movement, even if it had been always successful, must have added a considerable strain to that sense of growing responsibility which was produced by the supervision of the tenants; and when accompanied with the kind of failures which I have mentioned, it often brought much vexation. And this period was also marked by the deaths of two of Octavia's most valued fellow-workers, Mrs. Nassau Senior (that most lovable and charming sister of Mr. Hughes) and Mr. Cockerell, a most able and sympathetic member of the Committee of the Workmen's Club, in which Octavia took so deep an interest.
While these and other troubles were already breaking down her strength, there came the additional trial of that misunderstanding with Ruskin, to which so much attention has unfortunately been called. As the correspondence has been published, I do not propose to refer at length to that painful incident. But I feel bound a little to anticipate events by saying that we have ample evidence that Ruskin regretted his hasty words; that he showed his renewed confidence in Octavia by the manner in which he finally made over to her the possession of his houses; and that, on the other hand, her old affection and admiration for him never wavered in spite of that passing cloud. I may bring the allusion to this episode to an end by quoting the words which she used in her Letter to her Fellow Workers in 1899 on Ruskin's death:
"The earth seems indeed sadder and poorer that such a man lives on it no more.
"That penetrating sympathy, that marvellous imagination, that wonderful power of expression, that high ideal of life have not only blessed his friends, but have left their mark on England.
"To me personally the loss is irreparable. I have cared to think of the master and friend of my youth, in his lovely home, and to feel that he was among us still.
"He has passed to the great beyond. All his noblest aspirations are opening before him, the incompletenesses passed away, the companionship of the mighty dead around him; the work accomplished, the love fulfilled, the peace complete, the blessings of thousands upon him."
But I have only introduced the subject in this place in order to emphasise the circumstances of the break-down in Octavia's health, and the interruption to her work, which, as will be seen in the next chapter, produced so remarkable a change in her life.
February 14th, 1875.
To Mary Harris.
. . . . Hast thou seen that Mr. Cross has brought in his Bill? Thou mayest think how intensely eager we are over it. I dined at Mr. Kay Shuttleworth's on Wednesday to discuss its clauses with him and a few experienced people, that he might know what to press on the House; and on Friday Mr. K. S. called together another small company at the Ch. Org. Soc. to rediscuss matters. They think the bill may be made to work. They say the omissions are from ignorance, and will be willingly corrected when pointed out, as everyone wants to work it. I dare hardly hope; it seems so very near the realisation of much one has wanted so long. Stansfeld was there, and was so kind, and Mr. Shaw Lefevre. I am a great deal in B. Court just now, and right down among the people there, which is very nice. I am sensible how much I lack swiftly turning perception, and unfailing gentleness, and a certain cautious reservation of speech. My only chance among the people is trying to be all right, so that it mayn't matter their seeing right thro' me. I have no powers of diplomacy; these I don't regret, but the power of non-expression might be an advantage. However, I don't get into great messes somehow; and I suppose one was made like this, to do some particular work in the world. The people are delightful down there, so responsive, so trustful. … Dost thou know if ever I write again I shall make a point of dwelling on Ruskin's beginning the work? I fancy he feels sadly his schemes have not succeeded; and they only want the admixture of humdrum elements to make them into bodies; the soul is all there. His share is the soul, and this ought to come prominently out.
I enclose the report of Stanley's sermon, and of Mr. Kay Shuttleworth's speech. …
I daresay I may feel more courageous after to-morrow, when the public-house trial comes on. We quite expect to be defeated here, but hope to win on the appeal. It will be very horrid to-morrow; there is such strong personal feeling. …
Miss Martin, the lady from Leeds who is staying here, is so very nice. She has great power, and will do the work admirably. She has great perception of character, and is so much interested in all our people, poor and rich. It is a real pleasure to see her with the people. …
Mr. Cross has accepted nearly all we submitted to him. So far all is very satisfactory; but on the other hand there is likely to be considerable delay; also Mr. Fawcett, representing extreme political economy, and a Mr. Cawley representing vestrydom, are hatching a great opposition. We are much afraid of clogging amendments being carried; and no one knows what the Lords will do. I have secured an able and earnest young supporter for the Bill, in the person of Lord Monteagle, who will really master the details, and may secure more powerful allies in the world's opinion; though I believe in the careful whole-hearted work of young men really in earnest, much more than in the chance of a few words from a man of influence. Dost not thou?
I have been much engrossed about Mr. Cross's Bill this week. I was in the House on Monday when it was read a second time. Mr. Kay Shuttleworth and Mr. Lefevre came up and had a long talk with me, and it was very interesting. I did not learn very much; and tho' they and Mr. Stansfeld and Mr. Plunkett and Mr. Rathbone are talking over amendments with me, I feel as if, now that the matter was well before the House, they and others were far better judges of what amendments would work, what there was a hope of carrying, than I am. It was very solemn, tho'; and a thing I never shall forget. I was sitting quite alone in the gallery belonging to the Speaker's wife; it was very late, and she and her friends had all gone home. The gallery is high up above the House, but one sees and hears beautifully. I had been listening intently, but, when Mr. Kay Shuttleworth began to speak, I thought I knew all that he was going to say, and was leaning back thinking, when suddenly my own name caught my ear. Mr. S. was speaking of the Macmillan article; and, instead of quoting dry facts and figures, he read aloud from it the description of the wonderful delight it gave me to see the courts laid open to the light and air. And then he read the bit about the Chairman of the Trust going over the old plans and photographs, and remarking on the changes, and the longing that arose that someone, someday, in London might be able to note similar purification. The words recalled vividly the intensity of the longing, and the wonderfully swift realisation of the prayer; and a great gush of joy rushed over me. But, besides that, somehow it seemed a blessed thing to have half suggested, and wholly anticipated the feeling on the part of that bright, promising young man, and thro' him to the whole House. One felt so small, so alone and out of sight; and there were thoughts bearing fruit in ways of which one had never dreamed. I can't tell how tiny it made me feel. Mr. Kay Shuttleworth happened to have told me that he had been spending Sunday in the country, and could not get the subject out of his head, and that he had re-read the article. I did not hear Mr. Rathbone's mention of my work, as I had gone to get some tea; my head was so very bad.
A Miss Martin, a friend of Mr. Estlin Carpenter's, is coming to stay with us till Easter, to learn our work, that she may help in the houses that they are purchasing in Leeds.
am heartily enjoying my work in B. Court.
From Lord Shuttleworth to Mr. Edmund Maurice.
On the Artisans' Dwellings Act of 1875.
I was closely associated with Miss Octavia Hill in 1873, during the inquiry by a committee of the C.O.S. into the whole question of the dwellings of the working classes in London. It was a remarkable committee, over which the late Lord Napier and Ettrick presided, and to which nearly everyone then prominent in the work of improved dwellings belonged, including such men as Lord Shaftesbury, Sir Sidney Waterlow, Mr. Hughes (Tom Brown), etc., etc. Mr. Bosanquet was then Secretary of the C.O.S., and took an active part.
In 1874, with encouragement from Miss Octavia Hill and others, I brought the subject before the House of Commons, basing my speech a good deal on the excellent and very practical report of the C.O.S. Committee. In the debate on my motion, Mr. (now Lord) Cross, who was then Home Secretary, promised a Bill, which he introduced and passed on the part of Mr. Disraeli's Government in 1875—the Artisans' Dwellings Act. In the consideration of that Bill Miss Octavia Hill again gave valuable advice; and when, a few years afterwards (about the year 1880), a committee of the C.O.S. was appointed to consider the working of the Act, and how far it should be amended, she and I again worked together upon that committee, and I remember gratefully the signal help which she then gave.
Miss Octavia Hill was pre-eminently fitted for contributing an exceptional amount of practical knowledge, experience, and wisdom at the meetings of such committees and conferences on a subject which she had made her own. She would quietly listen to a discussion of some point, and at last say a few weighty words in her calm, impressive, tactful way, which would carry with her the general assent of all, or nearly all, who heard her, and would thus promptly bring the debate to a sound conclusion.
I think it was in the 'eighties that, in a certain London parish, a progressive clergyman and his Church Council rather impulsively took up a housing improvement scheme. Before launching it, they were persuaded by one of their members to ask Miss Hill's advice. I was present at the meeting of the Council which she kindly consented to attend. According to what, I think, was her habit, she sat quite silent for perhaps an hour or more, while various members propounded their ideas and sketched out the scheme. When they had quite finished, she very quietly and gently, but convincingly, said a few words of common sense which showed that the scheme, though admirably intended, was unpractical; and from that moment it ceased to exist. This was an instance of the weight which she carried, by her tact and wisdom and experience, even in a meeting of people who, with one or two exceptions, were, I believe, complete strangers.
Derwent Bank, Boughton, Carlisle,
March 28th, 1875.
To Mrs. N. Senior.
The boarding-out here is really heart-cheering to see.
What do you think that the Barnetts' great news was? That they had had a legacy, and wanted to spend it in rebuilding their worst court irrespective of making it pay, or waiting for the Bill. Of course I said by all means; and now, if they can but purchase, I think that it will give new life to their future there, to see some tangible and radical reform actually achieved.
14 Nottingham Place,
April 19th, 1875.
To Miss Harris
On Tuesday a batch of orders was issued by Dr.——which (or rather all that grow out of that fact) gives me a good deal of trouble,—more I believe, a great deal, than it ought. I believe that, if I could make up my mind that I see the right thing pretty distinctly, and can do it and leave the result, it would be far better; but I am apt to go over and over the subject, hoping to think out better measures, brooding over it. I know that the way to succeed is to think perpetually of things, till one suddenly sees the straight way through the difficulties; but it becomes, sometimes, very wearing; and it is useless, whenever the only straight way is that of waiting till the right has time to win the day by its own innate force. I fancy that is the case here; our action has to be next to nothing; time, extreme silence, and great patience will secure the final accomplishment of whatever may be best with regard to the poor houses. I need not mind if little plans of mine fail wholly; still less need I tremble if dangers threaten them. There may be fifty reasons why it may be best for them all to sink to nothing. But it is not they and their outward forms that I have lived for, but all they are meant to help to achieve; and this, well thou knows, must succeed if I and they are annihilated.
Mary, I think the thing I most failed to convey to thee of all I had wanted thee to know, was the intense blessing that Mama is to us all. I think I understand her so very much more than I have done all my life; her sympathy is so delightful; and, now that I am sharing her room, I have time to tell her the events of the day. I think the sense of life is a joy to her; while often she puts before me principles bearing on questions under consideration quite beautifully.
14 Nottingham Place, W.,
April 25th, 1875.
To Miss Harris.
The public-house trial is over; and we won triumphantly and conclusively, and are very thankful for it. But the spirit of the people was very dreadful; and it doesn't augur well for the future work. Fifty vestrymen and 150 ratepayers signed in favour of the license. Several vestrymen attended and gave evidence.
Mr. Fremantle was very brave and true-hearted. Sir J. H. was in a towering rage, and tried to annoy me with things that didn't touch me. But it all points to future difficulty. However, I cannot say I am discouraged. As long as there was hope of peace from explanation and care, I was full of anxiety; but now we must go straight on; and, if storm comes, the law is over us all, and what it decrees, we will all readily do.
Miss Cons, as always when need is great, is very good just now.
April 28th, 1875.
To Mr. Cockerell.I see by Saturday's Mercury the doctor promises another report on B. Court soon. But I,—well I read
Caroline Southwood Hill.
From a Photograph by Andrew Whelpdale
May 6th, 1875.
To Mr. Cockerell.
I wonder whether the news has reached you of Mitchell's death. We can hardly realise the thought. He died the next day. The loss to us all will be heavy, and the pain great. If one had dared to single out the life which seemed of most value to the corporate life of the court, it would have been his. We must try to make his death draw us all together; and we must try to take care of his widow and children in the way which will be lasting gain to them. I don't see how yet. Everyone's heart is brimming over with sympathy, and they will have enough, and more than enough perhaps done for them just now. At any rate now money help would be of little value; and we must leave place too for the friends near him to do their part, and make the little sacrifices (often so much greater than ours); and we will come in with strong, quiet, lasting aid to help her to earn, or something of that kind.
14 Nottingham Place, W.,
May 16th, 1875.
To Mary Harris.
I do not know that I have much that is beautiful or helpful to tell you, except the natures of people; those are the loveliest things that I see; and they are lovely—some of them. Janey's, for instance. I saw her for a short time yesterday, as I had to be in Battersea to meet Mr. Erskine Clarke's district visitors. She is looking better, and spoke with grateful joy of your letter about the boarding out.
I was much delighted with G. Place, which I went over on Tuesday. Miss Cons has got it well in hand. I mean I was pleased with her dealing with the place.
Octavia to Rev. S. Barnett.
I have no suggestions for the Com. or Admin. Com. which would be capable of being embodied in a report. My engrossing and continuous thought about them is the hope that they will manage to secure the right men. But there is no receipt for the selection; and probably the Com. has not to nominate for election, but will have to recommend methods of election, numbers, division of work, about all which I am not a specially good judge. The one thing I should have been saying, had it pleased you to leave me at my old post, would have been that the important point was to get the right men, and that they would be found among those who have worked among the poor, and who have power of grasping facts. I should have been urging them earnestly to consider quite solemnly the importance of the duty they have to discharge, and to put no one on out of politeness, or because they "must," or because they have this or that influence, or have given time, or will "feel"; to let no minor considerations come in; but to concentrate their full force on the thought "how is this organising of charity, this great work of caring for our poor to be achieved?" And I should have been adding that, in my opinion, experience among, or care for, the poor was a more essential qualification for a seat on the Admin. than the other one power to grasp principles; and for this reason that the knowledge of the poor will not be gained afterwards at Buckingham St.; but the principles may be learnt by the mere fact of dealing with large numbers of bare facts, probably will be learnt there by any men who have it in them ever to learn them at all. This and a few words about the actual men to be selected would have been my contribution to the work, had I been there. But now I feel it is all out of my power to touch, and I rejoice more than words would say to see how triumphantly it and much else goes without me. A few words would influence so many things if I wrote them; but I may not; and so instead I have the privilege of looking, as if I were dead, to see how they go when I do not speak a word, and learning first how magnificently they go in the main in the way I have hoped for so long; and secondly how little it matters that much goes otherwise than it would, if I wrote ever so small a sentence.
About June 12th, 1875.
Octavia to Mr. Ludlow.
I have not seen anything of you for many years, nor heard anything of you lately; but, when I was thinking over the names of people resident at Wimbledon, who might possibly care to help with a party of four hundred of my tenants whom I am going to bring down there on Wednesday, yours naturally suggested itself, as I have some impression that you are still living there. I do not know that I should have ventured to write, having no special claim for these my people on you; but, your name having once occurred to me in relation to the question, I could not help feeling a wish to ask you just to walk over and see us, if you could without trouble, some time in the afternoon or evening at or near Cæsar's Camp, where we expect to be. I have vivid memories of tailors' "bean-feasts" long ago, with which those with whom you were working were associated; perhaps there I then first learned both the great good which grew out of such association with the people in their joys, and also how much was needed to make such gatherings more refined in tone, and gentler and quieter. If, as a child, I learned all this from what I saw, it was years before it became possible to me to realise what I saw to be needed. Though the thought of these my present excursions and winter parties was untraced by me to its germ so long ago, though now my people are quite unconnected with the Associations and founders of Associations, it yet remains true that it was the early connection with that body of "Christian Socialists," to which much of my present work must owe its spirit. It had to find its own form, according to the needs and possibilities of circumstances; but its spirit must have been influenced deeply by the deeds and words of all that group of men, among whom it pleased God to lead me, when life was just first presenting its puzzles to me. The form of much of your work has changed, died down, and withered, as forms often must; but the principles you were all teaching do not change; and now that many of them are understood by the younger generations, now that they who belong to those younger generations are coming forward so earnestly to work, grateful as I am for their help, and glad of their sympathy, there always remains to my mind a peculiar silent, more solemn, link with all who are associated with the earlier more difficult and lonely efforts of the past. It has pleased God to alter much since then. The voices that taught us are silent; but His voice still speaks; and, if He has made of the child who learned so much of the people (just from being one among them) now the leader of 3,000 tenants, He doesn't forbid that she should still be a child again, in thinking over the old days, and better still, in listening to His teaching.
re Swiss Cottage Fields?
July 19th, 1875.
To Mr. Cockerell.
Thank you very much for your letter about the city. I saw Mr. Bond yesterday, and again had a long talk with him about the best way of proceeding; and we decided that, for the moment, we would let the big-monied people alone, till we are better worth their notice, and work among those who cannot give more at the utmost than £25 and £50. I believe (thank God!) more in nobodies than in "somebodies."
Tortworth Court, Tatfield, R.S.O.,
August 3rd, 1875.
To Mrs. Senior.
I feel as if you ought to know what we are doing and deeply thinking of; yet I have been afraid to write to you for fear you should tire yourself by helping us. Now, however, that "Macmillan" is out, I fancy you are sure to hear of our work; and also I have increasing longing for the sense of your sympathy. Do you not know how one turns with longing for such sympathy, when vistas of effortful work look interminable, and when so many people "begin to make excuse." I send you then the papers with my love; and I hope you will see "Macmillan"; but do not help, except with loving sympathy, this time, please.
I came down here last night. It is infinitely peaceful, and Lady Ducie is very sweet and loving; and all is so very quiet. But I feel leaving my fields so that I could almost cry.
We have got on very well, better than anyone could have expected. We have collected £9,500 in little more than three weeks; but the vacation has come upon us with its inevitable pause; and it becomes a question whether the owners will give us time to try, after it.
How strange it seems to me (does it not to you?) that the momentary difficulty is to persuade the owners that there is a chance of anyone (any body of people in London or England), being in the least likely to be inclined to give the money for a place which must be a blessing to hundreds now, and hundreds yet to come—a great free gift to their city, and the chief city of their country. Fields reminding men and women long lost in the whirl of London, of child days and places near where they were born; fields where little children can see the wild flowers grow, as they are beginning to do once more on Hampstead Heath, but nearer their homes. Let other people look, if they know where, for the millionaire to do it all at once. Happy for him, if he be honoured to do such a thing! say I; he will find his buttercups more abidingly powerful and blessed than his sovereigns; but, as to me, I believe in the hearts of our poorer people, professional men, ladies with limited incomes, who know what homes, and families, and the poor are; and who will make for once an effort and sacrifice, to give £25 or £50 to save a bit of green hilly ground near a city, where fresh winds may blow, and where wild flowers still are found, and where happy people can still walk within reach of their homes. These have come forward, are coming forward; but I begin to realise how many of them it takes to contribute £1,000.
Please God, when October comes, if time is given us, we will begin in full force. Meantime I must write many letters.
August 9th, 1875.
To Mrs. N. Senior.
Many and most loving thanks for your letter, and all your sweet help.
I think of little else but my Fields day and night. We have now £8,150. The collection goes on slowly, but quite steadily, day by day; very well I think for the time of year; but we are in great fear that the owners will not wait.
I wonder owners are not a little awed by possession of so important a treasure, and do not pause a little, before they use it wholly without reference to the people.
25, Church Row, Hampstead,
August 19th, 1875.
To Mrs. N. Senior.
You will have heard from Charles of the sudden collapse of all our schemes for the purchase of the fields. The owners withdrew their offer after five days' notice. We were led to hope that this notice might be reconsidered, when the owner returned; but he confirms it, tells us we must consider the offer absolutely withdrawn, and refused even to receive a guarantee within a week for the full amount. I think the loss very great. The spirit of many of the people who helped us was so beautiful. I shall never forget that.
25, Church Row, Hampstead,
August 21st, 1875.
To Mrs. N. Senior.
We could almost have cried over your letter, dear, dear, Janey; how delightful is your joy in doing what is blessed and helpful. I will think over the generous offer; but I believe now we had better pause, for sufficient time to learn really which are now the best places available, and which those most needing space. These fields, which we knew, being gone, there is no such immediate hurry; and I thought of seeing a member of the Commons Preservation Society, with whom I have been in communication, learning what they are doing, and what they see before them of definite work. Also whether they would care to enlarge their work, so far as to appoint some one to examine into the provisions for every part of London, district by district,—the possible central small open spaces, the nearest available larger ones. If they won't do it, I will, or will get it done, and then bend my energies to whatever direction help is most needed. Isn't this best? Then, please God, we shall get that silly clause repealed, which prohibits the proceeds of the grain dues set aside for open spaces from being applied in the district of the Metropolitan Board of Works. And, if that is done, we shall have a fund yearly coming in, and may buy and buy as opportunity serves. Last year it came to £10,000, and was spent in a Park at Stratford; but, on most sides, except the east, the Metrop. Bd. of Works has jurisdiction for fifteen miles round London. Fancy debarring the City money for open spaces being spent in that area! In short, Janey dearest, I will assuredly go and see your farm. But I must, I think, review the whole area, and see where and how space will tell most. And I ought now at once to go and finish my holiday in Ireland. I go with a tenfold lighter heart for the love and generosity and sympathy of your letter; and you need not fear that nothing will be done, because we don't act at once. For the moment I am a little broken by the loss; and it would be difficult to begin just at once to work again; but, please God, if I live, I will see something efficient done, if power of mine, first or second hand, will do it; I promise you that.
14, Nottingham Place,
September 22nd, 1875.
To Mrs. Edmund Maurice.
Thanks for the Hampstead Express. I think it very important you should know what to say about the Traitors' Hill l question for me if anyone asks you. I do not purpose pledging myself to any one spot, until I have carefully prepared a general map, to see where space is most needed. My impression is that I shall care most (now that the Swiss Cottage Fields are gone) for small central spaces ; but this may not prove to be the case. I shall work first to secure that 10,000, and the grave-yards, and shall obtain co- operation from the Com. Pres. Society, or else some new body appointed ad hoc, before I do anything for any one place, as, in all probability, I shall not, myself, work in so much detail for any. Those which remain to be secured are. so far as I know them, so much more on a level in importance, that I can work for them gradually, quietly and less personally. But I can pledge myself to nothing of any sort or kind till I have met Mr. Hunter, Mr. Redford, and a few others, and have explored the subject in its general bearings.
October 3rd, 1875.
To Miss Harris.
What have we to tell thee of brightest and best? First I was most delighted with what I learnt of the B 's Court Women's and Girls' Institute at a little Committee at Mrs. Hart's on Tuesday. I knew the influence was strong and beautiful there ; but I had not realised how very much corporate life there
Now better known as Parliament Hill. was among the women themselves ; how much they
felt the Institute their own ; how they cared for and worked for it. I am to help the singing class there myself, this year, to try to introduce better songs and thoughts in the court. I hope for much help from musical people ; but we want all so very simple. I shall keep the conduct of all myself. Did I tell thee that Miss Peters is engaged to be married ? I am very glad ; and yet I am, perhaps, selfish enough not to be able quite to forget my own loss. However, she stays with us for a year, and is very sweet. It is very nice being so much in B 's Court now. I do like the people there. B., who was so utterly drunken has been steady now for many months ; he has such a nice house, and is a leader among the teetotalers. Quite a large group of girls were gathered round the notice board announcing the re-opening of the Institute. We used to say that no notice was of any use ; but they were eagerly reading, and asked me to read to them the new teachers' names and explain other points ; and this though there was a counter attraction in the shape of a quarrel. Good progress is being made in Leeds. They have bought two more blocks of buildings ; Miss Martin and Miss Bakewell are to manage them.
October 3rd, 1875.
To Mr Cockerell.
You will be glad to hear that Dr. has reported to the Board of Works as to districts requiring to be dealt with under the Art. Dwell. Bill, and has not included B 's Court. I think he has chosen the right spots, and am glad, tho' I was prepared for the other course being adopted. How glad one is if anyone one has suspected does better than one has hoped ! The next letter refers to the Bunhill Fields burial ground.
14, Nottingham Place,
November 21st, 1875.
To Miss Harris.
Thanks for letter to Mr. Harrison. I hope to make way in the matter ; but it is a little difficult to know how to begin. However Mr. Bond and I are to see the ground on Wednesday ; and, on Saturday, Mr. Lefevre, now Chairman of the Commons Preserva- tion Society, the Secretary and the Solicitor are to meet Mr. Bond and me ; and then I presume we shall make a formal application to the " Six Weeks' " Meeting. I long to get the ground ; but though the Local Board will surrender immediately their seventeen years' lease, so far as I at present see, there is no chance of the Quakers doing anything, except selling at full value. We may manage the cost ; but it points to securing churchyards if possible, which would only entail the cost, very heavy I imagine, of making them beautiful, not the purchase also. However we shall see : at any rate, it is a definite bit of ground in a popular poor neigh- bourhood to be sold ; and the thing is to learn the price, to see whether we can raise it ; and if so, whether it is the best expenditure for the money. Perhaps, if the Six Weeks' Meeting can do nothing in the way of generosity, the application may interest individual members to give. At any rate we must see. I am full of thought about it all. I wonder if you see the Charity Organisation Reporter, and noticed the appointment of Mr. Loch as secretary. Did I tell you that he is engaged to Miss Peters, and so good ? I daresay Miranda has told you of Miss Potter, who has been staying here. She wants to stay on for, possibly, two or three years. She is very bright and happy here ; extremely capable, and has been through a good deal in her life, though she is young. She seems to fit in among us very well. By the way, dost thou know I have found a motto in George Herbert which I intend to appropriate, as expressive of the way that I get on now, by means of my friends ? "A dwarf, on a giant's shoulder, sees further of the two." We have chosen a pretty one for the Girls' Institute in B. Court " God hath oft a great share in a little house."
14, Nottingham Place,
December 12th, 1875.
To Miss F. Davenport Hill.
... I do love life and all it brings very deeply, and should like to live long too, to see the progress of so many things that I care for ; I think a past is as great a help to a life as to an institution. It seems as if one were bound to live up to it. What I always fear about my own life is the tendency to excuse myself from small daily duties ; yet I am certain they are the real test of life. I don't mean that great claims ought to be sacrificed to small ones, nor that the duties remain the same for a woman as for a girl. Many small manual duties pass wholly away ; but it is by the small gracious- nesses, by the thoroughness of the out-of-sight detail, that God will judge our spirit and our work. My difficulty is always to secure this exquisite thoroughness, which alone seems to make the work true, and yet to delegate it. However, I learn gradually how to overlook and test it better and better ; and I gather round me an ever larger, more capable, and more sweetly attached body of fellow-workers. As to the gracious thoughtfulness for others, and silent self-control and sweet temper, I never had ' much gift for them ; and I do fear that, deeply as 1 honour them, and hard as I strive to live up to my ideal, I still fail very decidedly, which is wrong. I used to think that time would soften passionate engrossment, and leave me leisure to perceive the little wants of others ; but I think I pant with almost increasing passionate longing for the great things that I see before me. We are getting on about the open spaces gradually,, and, I think, surely ; but there is no need to trouble anyone yet, till those we-have in view are more definitely arranged about. It is a great joy to me that something will be done. Will you be interested I wonder, in the enclosed letter ? My sister l wrote it for our pupils, past and present ; but I was so delighted with it, that I took possession of it, and printed it for private circulation. Though it is only a week old, it is meeting with the warmest response, so that I fancy we shall have to let it become something larger and more public. I want our Clubs, Institutes, school-rooms, when we have our parties there, and the outsides of our churches and houses, to be brighter.
May 22nd, 1876.
What time, I wonder, will it take, before we fairly encounter the opposite tide, wave to wave you with your steady gain the Enemy with his steadier andThis is the letter by which Miranda inaugurated the Kyrle Society.
From a Photograph by Maull and Fox.
destruction of fields?
June 8th, 1876.
My question, a very vital one, is, whether it really never enters your mind at all that all measures of amelioration in great cities, such as your sister's paper pleads for, and as you rejoice in having effected, may in reality be only encouragements to the great Evil Doers in their daily accumulating Sin?
Venice, shortest day, 1876.
I have received to-day your letter, with its beautifully felt and written statement. It comes to me on my birthday to the Nuova Vita ; this day last year being the one on which I got signs sufficient for me that there was hope of that life ; and I am very thankful to" know that I have been thus of use to you, and that you feel that I have ; a much mistaken sense of a separation between us in essential principles having been for two or three years growing upon me, to my great puzzle- ment and pain ; so that this paper is a very moving and precious revelation to me.
June 24th, 1876.
I was greatly delighted by your long kind letter ; and it is much more than a delight to me, and it is a most weighty assistance in my purposes, that you can take this house and put it to use. . . . 342 LIFE OF OCTAVIA HILL CHAP. I wanted to say something more about your and Miranda's work. I cannot say more, however, than that, whether in the best direction or not, it cannot but be exemplary and fruitful.
14, Nottingham Place,
May 28th, 1876.
To Mary Harris.
Miss Cons has taken supervision of the Drury Lane district from her own house, Mr. Westroper being wholly, and her sister partly, told off to her, and several volunteers ; if it works well, it will be grand. The Bishop's meeting doesn't bear fruit in the distinct way that I had hoped ; the visitors won't organise before they come, but come singly, which means that much more indirect work will have to be done before we get our organisation. However all the result is good, as far as it goes. Miranda's paper was so very beautiful. I do wish it had been heard by a larger audience. The room was quite full, however; and the hearers were just those in whom the thoughts would be likely to bear abundant fruit.
June 2nd, 1876.
To Wm. Shaen.
I am writing to ask you whether you will do me a service, which will really be a considerable one. It is to take the chair for me at a meeting of the Liberal Social Union on the 29th of this month, when I am going to read a paper on the subject of Charity. The people are all strangers to me ; and I gather that their spirit is not one with which I shall feel very heartily in tune. It is a large gathering, and may be difficult to keep to the consideration of what we can do, instead of what we can not do. I am extremely anxious about this latter point. It is so easy to denounce what has been done, so difficult patiently to consider what can be done; and I don't want the opportunity to be lost of doing this. It will depend more on the tone of the meeting than anything. Personally, too, it would be a comfort to feel in sympathy with the chairman, and full confidence in him, which I certainly should do very completely if you would kindly fill the office. The chairmen suggested by no means seemed to me satisfactory; and I was delighted that the letters, which named them, contained also the proposal that I should select one. I looked all down the list of members; and there is not a single one whom I know, except yourself, whom I should like for the post. I feel the moment an important one. Unless we get volunteers in greater abundance, and that very rapidly, the Charity Organisation Society must suffer very considerably from the necessarily hard routine of official work compared to spontaneous work; and I am trying to do what in me lies to secure the help of as many people as possible. Among the members of the L.S.U. I believe we should find the wisdom, and freedom from parochial work; and, if we could but stir up their living sympathy with the poor, we might do much.
14, Nottingham Place, W.,
July 17th, 1876.
To Miss Olive Cockerell.
I sent you a little brooch, which I want you to wear in remembrance of the day you were baptised, and of the words which we then heard together. Ask Mama for a piece of her hair to put in the brooch; and, when you wear it, think of her love. It is a funny little old-fashioned brooch, but I thought it was very pretty; and I liked it, because it looked as if it had a history. I thought you might like it for this reason too. But I am afraid it will not begin to speak to you, like those delightful things in Andersen's stories. If only it could, what a quantity it might tell you! I wonder whom it belonged to; and whether it has been given, with words of loving hope, ever before, to any one; and whether the hope was realised or not. Does it not look as if its pearls might once have been tears, but had lost their passionateness, and had become quiet, like old people's tears, that are slow and still and deep, and much sadder, often, than young people's, though more beautiful in power of reflecting? What do the old people's tears reflect when they have lived good lives? Oh, Ollie dear, they reflect all the things which are round them, or have happened to them; and each looks lovelier than the other; some rose-coloured, some gold, some blue like the heaven, some white like snow. We may all be glad to have tears like these, set like jewels in a crown, to make our lives look royal.
This old-fashioned brooch, too, seemed to me like a good christening present, because those words that we heard have a history, like it;—those words, I mean, about your being signed with the sign of the Cross, in token that hereafter you should not be ashamed to be Christ's soldier and to fight under His banner against the world, the flesh, and the devil. Many a mother, Ollie, like yours, has heard them prayed over her little girl, and has wondered whether, when she grew to be a woman, she would remember them. Many a father has listened to them, asking for strength to bring up his child, so that she shall live as she ought. Many loving friends have stood by and prayed for the child, for her own sake, for the sake of the parents who love her, and for the sake of the great God who loves her even more. And the little girl has grown up, and lived her life, and had her history. And the same beautiful old words have been prayed for others; and, whether they have remembered them, and lived as if they were true, or whether they have fallen away, still the memory of the words has always borne witness to those who loved the children, that they really did belong to God, and that they had no business to be mean or cowardly or untruthful or anything bad. If the children forgot all this, and did wrong, still there was hope that they would return and be good some day; for that they were under God's own care, and that He wanted to gather them under His wings.
We, who were all together that day, asked for you, my child, that you might have courage to do right. We know God means that courage for you, that He will give it to you. Remember this all your life long; and remember too, the love which gathered round you as a child.
I send you a few words, more precious than any pearls; for they contain the wish of a great and good man for his little girl. They are very much like what we might have said to you; only that they are set in a sweet, solemn, and lovely way, which will make you remember them better.
Take them, dear, as the expression of what all who love you would say; and let them ring in your ears in the coming years. I, your loving mother, Octavia Hill, write them on the next page for you.
The lines appended are Kingsley's poem beginning:—
" My fairest child, I have no song to give you."
14, Nottingham Place,
July 23rd, 1876.
To Miss Harris.
Our failure this year has been on the open space question. Dora will tell thee about the Friends. Not that they stand alone ; the matter is one on which much preliminary work has to be done. People don't know about the importance yet. It is so sad ; for the places are going for ever so rapidly. I have written, by Mr. Lefevre's request, to The Times.
January 28th, 1877.
To Mrs. Hill.
Bunhill Fields contract for sale has fallen through, and the Quakers are again considering the matter. I hear hopeful news about Lincoln's Inn.
B 's Court is going so beautifully ; every room and shop let ; the people so happy and good ; the clubs full of life ; the finances so satisfactory.
14, Nottingham Place,
February 7th, 1877.
To Mrs. Gillum.
The fact is my time is so utterly engrossed that it is absolutely true that I have not time to see even old friends quietly, unless under special circumstances warranting an exception. It is strange, but the strain of responsible schemes under my con- tinuous charge, the thought necessary for dealing with all the new large plans before me, and starting them wisely and well, the ever-flowing stream of persons with whom I have to make appointments on business, and the incessant buzz around me of my assistants and immediate fellow- workers, leave me in a state of utter exhaustion on a Saturday night, which makes perfect stillness the only possibility for Sundays. Even the walks are often taken up by the companionship of persons who want to talk over with me this plan or that ; or to submit to me some difficulty. I cannot tell you how difficult it is to see anything even of Mama and Miranda, and as to Gertrude and Minnie I rarely see them, even if they come here. It is well for me that in the course of work I do naturally see many of my friends ; and that I do love and care very deeply for many of my fellow workers. Else I don't quite know what would have happened to me by now. I know you will begin to tell me I ought to give something up. And I could only answer my whole life is giving up of work. I part with bit after bit often of that I care for most, and that week after week ; but it is the nearest of all duties, added to the large new questions, in which a little of my time goes a very long way, which thus engross me. Such, for instance, as those I have now in hand the purchase for Lord Pembroke of 6,000 worth of houses for the poor. He gives money, pays worker ; one of my fellow workers trains her. Mr. Barnett sends me names of courts ; but the seeing the spot, its capabilities, value, the best scheme to improve it, getting surveyors' and lawyers' reports, I must do. I have six such schemes in hand now, small and large together at this moment. Then I had to see Sir James Hogg, the chairman of the Metrop. Bd. of Works, on Tuesday about the Holborn rebuilding under the Art. Dwell. Bill. I have obtained leave from Sir E. Colbroke to plant the Mile End Road with trees. I have all the negotiations with the vestry to make. The C.O.S. takes much of my time, tho' I have left all our local works to others. Then all the time I have 3,500 tenants and 30,000 or 40,000 worth of money under my continuous charge ; and, though I only see my people in one court face to face as of old, and the ordinary work goes on smoothly, yet even the extra- ordinary on so large a scale takes time. Questions of rebuilding, of construction, of changes of collectors, of introduction of workers to one another, I assure you the exceptional things I can hardly refuse to do (so large is the result from half an hour's work), use up my half hours nearly every one. I do read, 1 must, in holidays, when 1 go right away out of reach of frequent posts daily on those blessed Sundays, sometimes the last thing at night, that I may sleep better. I now and again catch (as if for breath) at a picture gallery ; but so rarely, and only suddenly, when I see I can
February 18th, 1877.
- My dear Octavia,
I have your beautiful letter with account of donations in print, and am greatly delighted with it. You will find yourself, without working for it, taking a position in the literary, no less than in the philan- thropic, world. It seems to me not improbable that the great powers and interests you are now exciting in so many minds, will indeed go on from the remedial to the radical cure of social evils : and that you have been taking the right method of attack all along. . . .
Ever affectionately and gratefully yours,
Derwent Bank, Great Broughton, Carlisle,
March 21st, 1877.
To Mr. Cockerell.
Did you know Mrs. Nassau Senior ? ... I sit waiting for the telegram that shall tell me that she is gone from among us. I feel stunned ; for I had large hope from her vigorous constitution ; and now this relapse is strange. She was, among my many friends, one of the noblest, purest-hearted, bravest to accept, for herself and all she loved, pain, if pain meant choice of highest good ; with an ardent longing to serve, a burning generosity, which put us all to shame. More- over she loved me, as few do ; and I her ; and, when I think that I can go to her no more, I dare not think of what the loss will be. But neither dare I grieve ; she seems too high, too near, too great, to grieve for or about ; the silence will be terrible, but if one keeps one's spirit true and quiet, and in tune with the noblest part of the absent loved ones, strange voices come across the silence, convictions of how they feel, and what they would say, if they could, to our listening hearts ; only I know this and all things come straight to us from One Who cares for us ; that His truth, somehow, the fact He has allowed to be, is best ; and it is a help so to have loved Truth thro' all one's life, that, when she veils herself in darkest guise, we dare not turn from her. I am busy about Quaker's Burial Ground, and Arch- bishop's meeting and other things.
March 27th, 1877.
To Mrs Edmund Maurice.
I have replied to Mr. L. and Fawcett pretty much in full . . . and reiterate my own strong con- viction that the railway is not needed, that it will spoil the Heath's beauty and need not increase accessi- bility ; compare the erection of a station to any which might be erected in Kensington Gardens on the same plea ; state my own opinions strongly, and " let it work." You will judge whether to do more. I am doing my little best which means many fruitless letters about Bunhill Fields, the Archbishop's meeting, . . . and my poor Lambeth. It is unfruitful work so far ; but all things must have a season of sowing, and the reaping must come some day. Numbers of people, too, are doing their best to help, which is beautiful. ... I have, you see, so very much of many kinds in my life.
A letter on the opening of B. Court Club on Sunday.
April 13th, 1877.
To Mr. Cockerell.
I think, as I live so very near, and as my life is so much in my own hands to plan, so that I can (and I will) rest on other days, that I will, if I am better and return, take up some small bit of work on a Sunday, afternoon, down there, or perhaps get the girls to come to me in the evening. My life seems meant for this, if for anything ; only the worst is that I seem not to have that glad bright sympathy with young things, which makes some of my friends able to make such classes a real joy to the girls. However, I will try or try to try.
14, Nottingham Place,
July 7th, 1877.
To Mr. Cockerell.
... I rather thought of " St. Christopher's Buildings " if the name must be changed. I'm very fond of St. Christopher. His early history, less known than the later parts, is to me very beautiful ; and, associated in my mind with B. Crt., the way he learnt that the good thing was the strong thing, seems to me very grand. And he learnt it by service and bearing too. The world would fancy it was named after some old church ; and I should hear the grand old legend in the name. Is it too fantastic a name ? Do you know the early part of St. Christopher's life, I wonder ? I think in B. Crt. we want all to be reminded that the devil is himself afraid when he really sees the good thing. Also I like St. Christopher's respect for his own physical strength. . . . Everyone is so kind. I think I have a magnificent set of friends. As to Mrs. Shaen and Lady Ducie they really are like angels. I hardly knew Mrs. Shaen's height of nature till now, and her expressive- ness makes her a great delight ; while Lady Ducie's magnificent silent sympathy, and that exquisite depth of tenderness of hers, are so very beautiful. The servants too, and the children, and the people who come in and out to help, and are not very near, their silent little acts of thoughtful kindness touch me often very much. I ought to be so very full of thankfulness and joy.
No date. Probably 1877.
To Mary Harris.
I cannot tell you what important work we have in hand. We are restoring and re-establishing a provident dispensary here. It implies an immense deal of thought, judgment, money. Mr. Crowder is quite the leader in it all. I am quite proud of him. . . . Then we were laying deep foundations for Mr. Hughes' future success. This week we have our blind concert at which 660 tenants also will be present. I went over the new buildings in B. Court on Wednesday. They really are beautiful. It does one's heart good to see them. I think Lord Ducie must be delighted.
To Mrs. Shaen.
Everyone falls in with my plan for the little orphans, and I am trying to place them in the village where Miss Harris lives. Boarding out is most success- fully carried on there. Dear Janey came and stayed there and saw the houses. My former pupils would watch the children for me, and, if I go there, I should see them myself.
· · · · · · · · ·
Mrs. Hill to Mrs. Edmund Maurice.
Octa arrived safely yesterday in perfect en- thusiasm about her visit and certainly better for it. She dined in the evening at Lord Monteagle's, and found Fawcett quite opposed to the Bill. She talked with him at dinner and afterwards, and I believe quite altered his views. In wishing her good-bye he said he owed to her a most interesting and delightful evening, and he was glad to have met her. He apologised to Lady Monteagle for having engrossed the conversation, and kept it on this topic; he hoped to meet her again, and not be so absorbed.
Mrs. Hill to Mrs. Edmund Maurice.
A change has come o'er the spirit of our dream. Octa has seen Dr. Hughlings Jackson three times; and Lady Ducie has seen him once; and he insists, in a way we cannot gainsay, that Octa shall at once cease work. She is going abroad, but we don't yet know where—and is organising work in the houses to go on without her;—all the other work must of course take its chance in other hands, those in which it now is.
Dr. H. Jackson thinks she will ultimately quite recover, and says she must have immense strength to have gone on all these months.
December 7th, 1877.
Octavia to Miss Lee, now Mrs. Huddy.
Believe me the work you have done for me in B. Court during the past year has been the greatest consolation to me. It often sits heavily on my heart to think how much real deep personal work goes undone in the courts, while I am called away, or which I am not fitted to do; and, when I see that you and such as you are taking it up, I feel so thankful. I know that that is the work which is of deep and true value.
- This refers to the formation of an Administrative Committee of the Charity Organisation Society to be elected by the local committees.
- This refers to the movement for purchasing the Swiss Cottage Fields for the public.
- The Swiss Cottage Fields.
- Now Lady Courtney.
- A reference to Octavia's past attempt to save the Swiss Cottage Fields.
- A house in Paddington Street which Octavia undertook to manage.
- The Kyrle Society.
- Re Kyrle Society.
- A premature attempt to get the gardens of Lincoln's Inn Fields open to the public.
- This refers to a petition circulated among the electors of Marylebone asking Mr. Hughes to come forward again at the next election.
- She boarded out one of these orphans in memory of Mrs. N. Senior.