Settlement Histories

The university and social settlement movement was founded in the late nineteenth century to reunite the working and middle classes through a programme of social, educational and cultural activities. It enabled students, graduates and social workers to live and work amongst the urban working classes. Much scholarship has been devoted to the movement, but almost all of it has been focused on the work of the foundational London settlements Toynbee Hall and Oxford House (Briggs, 1983; Meecham; 1990; Koven, 2006). Historians tend to overlook the fact that the settlement movement operated nationally and that it took different forms in specific localities.

Between 1883 and 1914, 46 university and social settlements were founded (Picht, 1914). My preliminary research has shown that the movement cannot be fully understood without proper attention being given to the role of university and social settlements outside of East London. Building on my previous research on Toynbee Hall and Oxford House, this project will examine the regional, local and national dimensions of settling to consider how this innovative form of active philanthropy was conceived and experienced. The project will contribute to the development of a more nuanced understanding of the role that universities played in the civic and philanthropic landscape at the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. This is timely given that we are increasingly rethinking their civic and social relationships with local communities.

This project will address the following questions;

    what factors motivated universities to settle in certain localities?

      How did settlements respond to their differing community’s social, educational and cultural needs?

        In what ways did settlers (the name given to individuals who came to live in settlement houses) experience, understand and engage with the working classes?

          To what extent did settlers make working-class districts their home?

            Finally, what were the material and physical attributes of settling?

            My research will examine how middle class philanthropists ‘settled’ in specific local communities. This is a departure from studies that have equated settling with ‘slumming’ (Koven, 2006) in order to evidence a wider range of inter-class dynamics in inner-city Britain. My hypothesis is that settlements were intended as permanent features in their local communities and that settlers by and large hoped to engage in a long-term project of social work.


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