Octavia Hill

We were founded by Octavia Hill, a pioneer of social housing, a co-founder of the National Trust and the first clean air campaigner for London.

Born in 1838 Octavia Hill began her work with the poor of London in the 1860s. Her aim was to:

“make lives noble, homes happy and family life good”.

She recognised that housing regeneration was as much about people as buildings. Some of the ideas that guided Octavia Hill’s work included:

  • Regeneration: Octavia’s approach to regeneration involved bringing properties up to a decent standard before tenants moved in and then continuing to improve them as tenants showed that they were able to look after their homes. She set aside a budget for the repair and improvement of each building and if there was money left over at the end of the year, tenants were able to decide what improvements the money should be spent on.
  • Supporting people: Another way in which Octavia supported tenants was by collecting rent payments at a regular time each week. As well as setting clear expectations and promoting financial responsibility, this provided a weekly opportunity to talk to tenants and support them with any problems they were dealing with. When tenants were out of work, she helped them to find employment so they could continue paying their rent.
  • Valuing mixed communities: Octavia recognised the importance of taking care about how individual properties were let. This meant creating mixed communities, avoiding overcrowding and under-occupancy, and not tolerating anti-social behaviour.
  • Clean air and open spaces: Octavia understood that clean air and green, open spaces contribute to healthy, happy communities. She campaigned for the use of smokeless fuel in London and for open spaces to be maintained for public use. Her work helped to secure the purchase of Parliament Hill Fields for the benefit of Londoners and the establishment of the National Trust in 1895. 

Octavia Hill’s life video

Learn more about Octavia Hill in our short video of her life, researched, directed and produced by a group of young people with the support of the Octavia Foundation.

Hidden Herstories: Octavia Hill

Further information

You can find out more about Octavia Hill’s life and work in our timeline[J3] . Further information about Octavia Hill is also available from: