'...all we are working for is to make individual life noble, homes happy, and family life good...' Octavia Hill

Also available to buy in Octavia Foundation charity shops and selected
booksellers including Daunt Books and the Notting Hill Bookshop.

150 years on from when Octavia Hill started out, we asked some of our residents and supporters to tell us what for them is a noble life.

What is a noble life? ?
our trailer

Octavia Hill was a remarkable social reformer. Her ambition was to help poor Londoners live 'noble' lives.
150 years on, in a new book out this year, we ask Alan Johnson MP, Cathy Newman, Ian Hislop, Dr Rowan Williams, Deborah Meaden and more: is that still a relevant mission? What does a noble life look like today?


A fascinating new book for October 2015. All proceeds go to west and central London
support charity, the Octavia Foundation.

what's new

In 1865, a 27-year-old called Octavia Hill persuaded John Ruskin to buy two properties in Marylebone for housing the poor. This was the start of a lifetime of pioneering work in social housing. Add to that her other achievements – developing the social work profession, co-founding the National Trust and retaining Parliament Hill Fields for public access – and a remarkable social reformer emerges.


One hundred and fifty years on, this book brings together a diverse group of Octavia Hill fans – among them politicians, artists, broadcasters charity leaders, actors, writers and social housing workers and tenants – to explore a phrase Octavia used to describe her ambition in life. This, she said, was to make ‘…individual life noble, homes happy and family life good’.


Is it still a relevant mission today? What does a noble life look like in 2015?


At a time when the extent and range of welfare support is under scrutiny, when London is increasingly unaffordable for many, when politicians of all persuasions have concerns about an ageing population and amid a debate as to the wider issue of our individual responsibility for others, Octavia Housing has set out to create a book which asks: ‘What would a contemporary Octavia Hill make of all this?’

View the trailer here

the synopsis
Some of our contributors
Alan Johnson John Bird Alan Johnson

'The people whose houses
my mother cleaned owned their homes whilst everybody in Southam Street, London W10 rented, so far as we knew…

Some of our neighbours rented from what I later heard described as slum landlords, the most notorious of whom was Peter Rachman, but we were with the Rowe (later Octavia) Housing Trust, something my mother told us we should be eternally thankful for.'

'Octavia cannot and will not be forgotten, so long as there is someone whose life is narrowed by the housing in which they live.

As long as there is injustice in housing, the spirit of Octavia will remind us that it could – and should – be done better and that we need not accept less for those who deserve more.'

'Taking action for reasons other than personal gain is undeniably noble and Octavia’s work personifies that.

She was a woman with vision, with clarity and with all the right motivations. She did that very special thing that most of us aspire to; she left this world a better place because she was in it.

When she came across obstacles she didn’t stop. She went over them, around them – whatever was necessary to achieve her aims.'

Deborah Meaden
Who was OCtavia hill

Octavia Hill (1838-1912) was one of the most influential women of the Victorian era.
Born in Wisbech, Cambridgeshire, she began life without formal education, as the eighth
of eleven daughters in a family of little rank and no money.


Today, she is chiefly remembered as being one of the founders of the National Trust. But her work began in the London slums, where she was a champion for housing reform, managing small groups of dwellings bought by friends such as John Ruskin, and trying to improve the appalling living conditions and quality of life of the working-class poor.


Her methodical approach and use of trained volunteers called ‘Fellow Workers’ represent the foundations of today’s housing management profession. The Horace Street Trust which she set up became a model for many subsequent housing associations, and developed into the present housing association that bears her name, Octavia Housing.


Octavia also fought to preserve open spaces for the poor who could not enjoy access to gardens or country estates. Her achievements range from securing Parliament Hill Fields and Vauxhall Park in London, to the first purchase by the National Trust in the Lake District. The organisation she co-founded with Robert Hunter and Hardwicke Rawnsley in 1885 today has over 3.4 million members and continues to hold land and buildings in perpetuity ‘for ever, for everyone’.


A strong believer in the potential for art and beauty to enhance people’s lives, she founded the Kyrle Society which decorated public spaces such as hospital wards and organised musical performances in view of extending cultural and recreational activities among the London poor.


Common to all that she did, was a belief that things could be changed for the better
and that individuals, as well as organisations and governments, could play a real role in
making that change.

Emily House, 202-208 Kensal Road, London W10 5BN