1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Hill, Octavia and Miranda

HILL, OCTAVIA (1838–) and MIRANDA (1836–1910), English philanthropic workers, were born in London, being daughters of Mr James Hill and granddaughters of Dr Southwood Smith, the pioneer of sanitary reform. Miss Octavia Hill’s attention was early drawn to the evils of London housing, and the habits of indolence and lethargy induced in many of the lower classes by their degrading surroundings. She conceived the idea of trying to free a few poor people from such influences, and Mr Ruskin, who sympathized with her plans, supplied the money for starting the work. For £750 Miss Hill purchased the 56 years’ lease of three houses in one of the poorest courts of Marylebone. Another £78 was spent in building a large room at the back of her own house where she could meet the tenants. The houses were put in repair, and let out in sets of two rooms. At the end of eighteen months it was possible to pay 5% interest, to repay £48 of the capital, as well as meet all expenses for taxes, ground rent and insurance. What specially distinguished this scheme was that Miss Hill herself collected the rents, thus coming into contact with the tenants and helping to enforce regular and self-respecting habits. The success of her first attempt encouraged her to continue. Six more houses were bought and treated in a similar manner. A yearly sum was set aside for the repairs of each house, and whatever remained over was spent on such additional appliances as the tenants themselves desired. This encouraged them to keep their tenements in good repair. By the help of friends Miss Hill was now enabled to enlarge the scope of her work. In 1869 eleven more houses were bought. The plan was to set a visitor over a small court or block of buildings to do whatever work in the way of rent-collecting, visiting for the School Board, &c., was required. As years went on Miss Octavia Hill’s work was largely increased. Numbers of her friends bought and placed under her care small groups of houses, over which she fulfilled the duties of a conscientious landlord. Several large owners of tenement houses, notably the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, entrusted to her the management of such property, and consulted her about plans of rebuilding; and a number of fellow-workers were trained by her in the management of houses for the poor. The results in Southwark (where Red Cross Hall was established) and elsewhere were very beneficial. Both Miss Miranda and Miss Octavia Hill took an interest in the movement for bringing beauty into the homes of the poor, and the former was practically the founder of the Kyrle Society, the first suggestion of which was contained in a paper read to a small circle of friends. Both sisters worked for the preservation of open spaces, and helped to promote the work of the Charity Organization Society, and for several years Miss Miranda Hill (who died on the 31st of May 1910) did admirable work in Marylebone as a member of the Board of Guardians.