The Elijah Hoole Cottages in Ranston Street

These cottages, which have survived wars and town planners for a hundred years by pure chance, derive from the Sweetness and Light houses which first appeared in Chelsea in the 1870s and are very similar to ones built by Unwin at Letchworth at the turn of the century.

In 1886, the year after the Eliza Armstrong trial, Octavia Hill was asked to take over the management of Christchurch Buildings, then in Lisson Street. These had a very bad reputation at that time. She cleared out the worst tenants, preferring to leave rooms empty until she could find more respectable ones, for she was concerned solely with the 'deserving poor' who could be helped to pull themselves up by their own boot laces. ‘They must not be given things because this led to pauperisation and loss of self respect.’1 She was not interested in the 'undeserving poor'.

Octavia Hill had started her housing work twenty years before, in 1865, with three houses in Paradise Place (off Marylebone High Street) and four in Freshwater Place (off Homer Street). These had been bought for her to manage by Ruskin, in the hope of showing that houses could be bought and let at low rents and still return a small profit to the owner. By the time she came to Charles (Ranston) Street, Octavia Hill had wide experience of low-rent housing and had about £70,000 worth of property in her management, housing perhaps three or four thousand people. She had attracted many followers who worked for her voluntarily, many later starting their own schemes elsewhere.

Octavia Hill bought up as many of the Charles Street leases as possible, demolished them and asked her friend Elijah Hoole, an architect, to build her some cottages. Immediately the cottages became popular and, when the reputation of the street had improved, she asked for the name to be changed.

Elijah Hoole's Ranston Street cottages

Drawing from Unwin's
'Town Planning in Practice,' 1909


  1. The Eternal Slum, by A. S. Wohl.

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Updated August 8, 2011