St Christopher’s Place, Marylebone, City of Westminster
St Christopher’s Place, Marylebone, City of Westminster © Historic England DD88/00120
St Christopher’s Place, Marylebone, City of Westminster © Historic England DD88/00120

Housing - Pioneering

Women's particular interest in housing design arose from their role as housewife and mother. They sought to make the domestic space function more efficiently.


'The plaster was dropping from the walls, on one staircase a pail was placed to catch the rain that fell through the roof. All the staircases were perfectly dark, the banisters were gone, having been used as firewood by the tenants.'  Octavia Hill (1838-1912)

Writing of Paradise Place (now Garbutt Place), Marylebone, London W1 Octavia Hill demonstrated the horror of Victorian slums she faced with her first attempt at housing reform in 1865.

With a background in public service she was one of numerous active middle class women outraged at the housing conditions of the poor. Her theory of housing fostered a spirit of co-operation between tenant and landlord - the landlord to provide a habitable property, and the tenant to maintain it.

Insisting that such schemes could be financially viable, and that social harmony could only be achieved with an interdependent community mix. She was able to put her theory into practise as her philanthropic supporters purchased further slum properties and placed them under her management, such as Freshwater Place (1866), and Barrett's Court (now St Christopher's Place) (1869/1882), Marylebone, London W1.

Hill's belief in low built cottage-style housing as opposed to tall blocks of flats guided new construction such as the model cottages with gardens at Ranston Street, Paddington, NW1.

For Hill, gardens and open spaces were a necessity for people's health, so her two passions coincided from 1886 when she created the Redcross Cottages, Gardens and Hall in Southwark. Funding came from Lady Jewson and Lady Jane Dundas, Emmeline Sieveking was the gardener, and Julia Minet created a mosaic for the Hall based on a design by Lady Waterford (see Education).

On her death, Hill controlled 2,000 tenancies for private landlords and the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, with women operating her housing management system at home and abroad. In 1931 'The Times' reported that Westminster City Council, for example, was building 600 new flats based on Hill's system.

Her professional employment path for women was formalised in the Society of Women Housing Workers (later Managers), 1916 which continued until a 1965 merger with the men's organisation to become the Chartered Institute of Housing in 1965.

Was this page helpful?