The poor & the city

.…a poorly-clad woman, with a child in her arms, followed me for a little way, begging that I would buy some flowers she had… I saw that she looked very thin and miserable. She noticed that I hesitated and tears filled her eyes.

“I have not taken a penny to-day, miss,” she said.

Mackridy, O.C. Malvery (1907) The Soul Market, New York: McClure, Phillips & Company

During the Victorian era, times were hard in Hoxton. Many local residents lived in extreme poverty, in overcrowded slums where disease and crime were rife. Olive Malvery moved to London in 1890 to train as a singer where she soon became fascinated with the lives of slum dwellers. She immersed herself in this world, taking up various working class occupations such as factory worker, street singer and even spent some time in the dreaded workhouses. During this time Olive met and became friends with Sarah Rae, who ran ‘The Girls Guild for Good Life’ at Hoxton Hall and was in awe of the work she did with local young women. With the introduction of the welfare state, after WWII, living conditions did improve, but Hoxton still housed those on the poverty line and this has always presented various social problems for the community. Throughout most of this time, The Bedford Institute – a Quaker organisation committed to social change and education – occupied Hoxton Hall from 1910 to 1977. They programmed a mixture of positive activities for all age groups within the community that both entertained and educated local people, offering them skills and knowledge that could allow them routes out of poverty.

The Hoxton Hall collection gives a vibrant sense of how the poor of Hoxton lived. Our collection of documents show the area as a bleak, empty and hard place to live – particularly through Bedford Institute promotional literature and photographs taken of the local area throughout the ages. However, the vibrancy and energy of Hoxton residents is also captured in our photographs of social events and classes throughout the ages, which show residents of Hoxton socialising, learning skills and thriving within this environment.

Hoxton Hall has a fully catalogued archive collection based at Hackney Archives in Dalston Library. This archive is accessible to the public during opening hours, with trained staff on hand to help. For how to get there and opening times please see here.

We also have a fully digitised archive available to view by appointment via Hoxton Hall.

Discover more about Hoxton Hall’s unique history by downloading the Hoxton Hall Experience app and visiting us. This sensory journey will guide you around the building and immerse you in Hoxton Hall’s past through a combination of digital and live installation.

Hoxton Hall Experience>>

Arts based Heritage events and workshops take place throughout the year. Whether it’s taking part in arts and crafts family activities or dancing your socks off at a good old fashioned tea dance our heritage activities offer something for everyone and are designed to excite and engage the local community in the rich and varied history of the hall and its locality. Check out DO and SEE

Hoxton Hall: A short history of Hoxton Hall and its locality

Cload, P. (2008) Hoxton Hall 1983 to 2008 – A Personal History – The launch of Hoxton Hall as a Community Arts Centre

Available for purchase at Hoxton Hall reception