16 August 2007
Influential Victorian social housing reformer, Octavia Hill, was honoured with a Blue Plaque last Sunday.
Stephen Humphrey from the Local History Library, Octavia Hill biographer Gillian Darley, Helen Firminger of Bankside Open Spaces Trust, Mayor of Southwark, Cllr Bob Skelly, with Brigadier Wharby OBE
The campaigner had a plaque erected in Red Cross Gardens, in the area where Hill battled to help the poverty stricken residents of Borough in the 1800s.
Hill was nominated for a plaque after residents voted in the initiative, created by the 'News' and run by the council, which is designed to mark significant Southwark people, places and events.
Hill, who was born in 1838 in a small village in Cambridgeshire, was moved to work with the poor after she was forced to move to Finchley in north London following her father's bankruptcy and mental breakdown.
It was here that she came under the influence of her grandfather Dr Thomas Southwood Smith, a determined campaigner in raising the living conditions of the poor and widely credited as the 'father of sanitary reform'.
In 1851 Hill moved to inner city London and the urban poverty and social deprivation made an instant impression on her. She resolved to do all she could to address the issue.
Following a £3,000 donation from her friend, art and social critic John Ruskin, Hill embarked on her career as a housing manager.
In 1864 Ruskin bought three properties in notorious slum Paradise Place in Borough and gave them to Octavia Hill to manage.
Hill launched into her project with vigour and transformed the poverty-stricken areas, making living conditions more tolerable and creating a sense of community spirit. Her aim was to make, 'lives noble, homes happy and family life.
Hill's methodical approach and her use of trained volunteers laid the foundations for the modern profession of housing management. Her methods have not only been adopted in England, but also internationally, stretching as far as Holland, Russia and the United States.
From 1884 Hill managed many of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners estates in Southwark as well as creating Gable Cottages and nearby Red Cross Cottages, Red Cross Hall and Garden.
Hill also established the Southwark Cadet Corps in 1889, and co-founded the National Trust in 1895.
Eventually, after years of tireless work, she retired to her home in Kent and died in 1912.
Gillian Darley, biographer of Octavia Hill, who unveiled the plaque, said: "Octavia Hill did more than just build houses for people in poverty - she wanted to instil a sense of beauty into people's depressed lives.
"The Red Cross Cottages, Red Cross Garden and the community hall are a wonderful example of this. They show how she approached housing development in a unique and personal way, making sure that people not only had good housing but also recreation areas, beautiful gardens and areas for communal activity.
"She looked at every part of the way people lived and improved on it."
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