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Lay for the Day
3rd December

Octavia Hill was born on this day in 1838, in Wisbech, Cambridgeshire. She devoted her life to improving the lot of London’s poor, particularly with regard to decent housing. Her schemes provided dwellings of several rooms for each family with good sanitation and plentiful access of light and air. She was also one of the founders of the National Trust, in 1895.
To their shame, the commissioners of the Church of England proposed in July 2001 that “market rents” be introduced for new lettings in the Octavia Hill Estates of Southwark, which comprise about 1,200 homes. In other words, that the rents should follow the fearsome prices on London’s property market – whose upper limits are set by some of the wealthiest people in the world – in order to make more money for the church.
To their credit, the Synod of Southwark, representing the clergy and laity of the diocese, condemned the proposals in no uncertain terms, as unbefitting the legacy of the lady, and as “a complete abandonment” of the church’s “historical commitment” to social housing.
From the book of Praises:

37. Of Corners

Urban patches and angles where the congruence
of incongruous architecture, inhumane
blocks with a fine-textured sky, or a statuesque
cumulus cloud with low, degraded outbuildings,
give us a metropolis to participate,
say on a June Sunday swept clear by the south wind.

Whether fern or buddleia inhabit it, or
ivy and geraniums, neglect or private,
conscientious tending make of a few square yards
of suntrap, escaped from the kingdom of the real
estate, an earnest of an inner city built
by virtue of our power to discover it.

John Gibbens
from Collected Poems


The Lay Reader: an archive of the poetic calendar