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BARNETT, Canon Samuel Augustus (1844-1913)

Identity Statement

Reference code(s): GB 0074 F/BAR
Held at: London Metropolitan Archives
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Full title: BARNETT, Canon Samuel Augustus (1844-1913)
Date(s): 1851-1936
Level of description: Collection
Extent: 0.6 linear metres (595 documents).
Name of creator(s): Barnett | Samuel Augustus | 1844-1913 | Canon of Westminster Social Reformer


Administrative/Biographical history:

Samuel Augustus Barnett was born in Bristol in 1844 and after a period at Wadham College, Oxford, he became a curate at St. Mary's, Bryanston Square in 1867. During the next six years, in contact with Octavia Hill and the Charity Organisation Society, he discovered his capacity for social work. His marriage in 1873 to a helper of Miss Hill, Miss Henrietta Octavia Rowland, coincided with his acceptance of the parish of St. Jude, Whitechapel. At Whitechapel, both threw themselves into social work, organising flower shows, art shows, and the Children's Country Holiday Fund, and helping such differing groups as pupil teachers, young servant girls, and convalescents.

Much of this work received great impetus with the founding of Toynbee Hall in 1883-1884 and the settlement in the parish of up to twenty young graduates intent on curing the social ailments of Whitechapel. Although much involved in the University Extension Scheme, and Warden and later President of Toynbee Hall, Barnett did not concentrate solely on these two aspects of social reform. The majority of his activities were in fact conceived before the founding of Toynbee Hall.

As a Guardian of the Poor and as a School Manager, Barnett had considerable local influence. This influence was widened by his evidence to several parliamentary committees and by the appointment of his wife to serve on the Departmental Committee to inquire into the condition of Poor Law Schools in 1894.

Barnett extended his activities to Bristol, where he was canon and later sub-dean from 1906 to his death in 1913. However, in the latter period of his life he was far more involved in meditation than in social work. In these years his influence worked through his friendship with the Webbs, Lord Courtney, Sir John Gorst, Cyril Jackson, Harold and J.A. Spender and the many past residents at Toynbee Hall.

Throughout their married life, the Barnetts went abroad frequently. They did this on the one hand to relieve the intense strain of life in Whitechapel and on the other hand because of their belief in the value of travel to the mind. When they did travel, they involved themselves in the social work of the country in which they found themselves and, on occasion, they shared the joys of travel with over 100 people from East London. Another means of relieving the strain of Whitechapel was frequent retreat to their cottage in Spaniards Row, Hampstead. Around their life in the suburbs they attracted many dependants, firstly in the form of unhappy servant girls at Harrow Cottage, secondly convalescents at Erskine House, Hampstead, and thirdly Henrietta Barnett's ward, Dorothy Noel Woods, who died in 1901.

From Hampstead, Mrs Barnett drew her greatest strength. Whilst the Canon became more meditative, she continued her life of action by the promotion and foundation of the Hampstead Garden Suburb in the years following 1903. Although the Barnetts had no children, his brother had four, one of whom died in childhood. His brother had continued the family business in Bristol and took an active part in local politics as a Liberal councillor. His death in 1908 was a severe shock to the Canon who, however, continued writing his letters to his sister-in-law, his niece Mary Barnett, and his two nephews. The eldest nephew, S.H.G. Barnett, went into engineering, and the other, Stephen, emigrated to New Zealand as a farmer.


Scope and content/abstract:

Personal papers of Canon Samuel Augustus Barnett, social reformer. The papers comprise correspondence, sermons and lecture notes, and miscellanea. The bulk of the correspondence consists of weekly letters from the Canon to his brother, Francis G. Barnett and, after the latter's death, to his widow and her daughter and sons. For the years before 1883 there are no letters at all, and before 1889 there are fewer than for the later years of the correspondence. Normally the Canon wrote every Saturday, but there are frequent periods when there was no correspondence, when the Canon was in residence at Bristol during the summers of 1893-1906, and when the two families were holidaying together. There are also large groups of letters written by the Canon to his mother and family in the form of travel journals during his trips to Egypt in 1879-1880 and round the world in 1890-1891.

There are very few in-letters. The letters to F G Barnett are almost always four octavo pages in length. They were bundled in one or two year periods by Dame Henrietta when preparing her biography of her husband. On several letters there are editorial instructions, deletions and emendations by Dame Henrietta. These were made in pencil and were, at some subsequent period, erased. Within each bundle Dame Henrietta also numbered the letters. Her numbering has not been indicated in the list, nor has it been followed, as several of the letters were in fact misplaced.

There is a series of bound sermon notebooks and miscellaneous lecture notes amongst these papers. Although the sermon notes are basically complete for the St. Jude's period, 1875-1888, the lecture notes are only a fraction of the Canon's output.

Some miscellaneous documents and in-letters were kept by the Canon for their intrinsic importance, e.g. formal documents relating to his benefice at St. Jude's, and these have survived. There are, in addition, miscellaneous photographs, mostly of the Canon, but also of his wife and of his family.

These papers will be of interest to historians for the information they give on Canon Barnett's life, and for the frequent and lengthy discussions of the political, social and intellectual life of the day. They are enhanced in value by the fact that Dame Henrietta was avowedly unable to do them more than scant justice in her life of the Canon (see Canon Barnett: his life, work and friends vol I, p.377), and that the records of Toynbee Hall have been decimated by war damage and destruction.

Access & Use

Language/scripts of material:

System of arrangement:

The collection is divided into 3 sections: Letters to Francis Barnett; miscellaneous documents and photographs.

Conditions governing access:

Available for general access.

Conditions governing reproduction:

Copyright to this collection rests with the City of London.

Finding aids:

Please see online catalogues at:

Archival Information

Archival history:

Immediate source of acquisition:

These papers were gathered from various members of the Barnett family by Dame Henrietta Barnett (1851-1936) for the purpose both of recalling events in her own life and of writing the life of her husband, Canon Barnett: his life, work and friends, published in 1918. On Dame Henrietta's death in 1936, the papers came to her nephew, S H G Barnett, through whose co-operation they were temporarily deposited for listing by the Historical Manuscripts Commission. Gifted to the Archive in May 1968.

Allied Materials

Related material:

For other personal papers of Samuel Barnett, see LMA/4266. ACC/3816 (Hampstead Garden Suburb) includes a series of Barnett family papers. LMA/4063 are personal papers of Henrietta Barnett. For the records of Toynbee Hall see A/TOY and ACC/2486. For St Jude's Whitechapel see P93/JUD.

Publication note:

There are articles on both the Canon and Dame Henrietta Barnett in the Dictionary of National Biography. Dame Henrietta published a life of the Canon entitled Canon Barnett, his Life, Work, and Friends (2 vols., London, 1918).

Description Notes

Archivist's note:

Rules or conventions:
Compiled in compliance with General International Standard Archival Description, ISAD(G), second edition, 2000; National Council on Archives Rules for the Construction of Personal, Place and Corporate Names, 1997.

Date(s) of descriptions:
Records prepared May to September 2011.

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