Eating and Dining in Toynbee Hall

About a month ago I posted this request on the Victorian Listserv and I’ve decided to throw it out to the twittersphere.



“I’ve recently started to think about what it meant to eat and dine in Toynbee Hall, the East London University settlement, and I’ve been wondering for a while whether the classes dined together in other cross-class settings in the nineteenth century. The Rev. Samuel Barnett saw this custom as a form of food philanthropy as it helped to rectify ‘the poverty of life’ experienced by his parishioners and other ‘poorer’ guests. It certainly builds on Disraeli’s idea that the two nations were ignorant of each other. In Toynbee Hall for instance, settlers would invite a guest for dinner and together they would then dine with West End friends, lecturers or friends of Toynbee. The entertainment committee usually paid for these ‘poorer’ guests to have a three course dinner with wine. Afterwards settlers and guests would then have tea in Toynbee’s drawing room before attending their classes or the Thursday smoking lecture. I therefore wondered if list members had come across this practice/idea of food philanthropy elsewhere in their studies.”

Since posting this request I’ve some great recommendations but I want to consider how this fits into the idea of food philanthropy more broadly. I would especially like to have any recommendations for accessible readings on any historical period beyond the nineteenth century. Readers of my book chapter on St. Francis will know that I am keen to explore this practice as an example of the Barnetts’ neo-medieval imagination and how they sought to the reconfigure the rural squire in an urban setting. At the same time I would love to hear people’s thoughts on working-class eating habits too. 

Thanks in advance for your help. You can contact me using the comment box below or you can email me on


2 thoughts on “Eating and Dining in Toynbee Hall

  1. Afraid I don’t have any suggestions as to useful reading, but I too have recently become interesting in this area – although I’m thinking more about the social class connotations of the food itself, rather than the actual dining experience (although that is a factor too). In particular I’m obsessed with European cheese in the early 1970s, but that’s a whole other story. The theme of this year’s Anglo-American conference was food & you might find that its programme has some helpful pointers – I was only there for part of it but there was some fascinating papers.

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