Today, the 21st of April, is the birthday of a truly remarkable woman who has made a significant impact on the lives of people, not just in the UK, but around the world.
I’m talking of course about Angela Burdett-Coutts.
Angela Georgina Burdett was a nineteenth-century philanthropist, the daughter of Sir Francis Burdett, 5th Baronet and the former Sophia Coutts, daughter of banker Thomas Coutts. Born into a highly privileged position, with wealth and title, she could have so easily taken the easy option of a lifetime of banquets, private occasions and general public adoration.
After all, in 1837 she became the wealthiest women in England when she inherited her grandfather’s fortune of around £1.8 million pounds sterling (around £182 million today), following the death of her step-grandmother, Harriot Mellon.
Instead, Angela decided to help everybody outside of her peer group by spending the majority of her wealth on scholarships, endowments, and a wide range of philanthropic projects. With Charles Dickens she co-founded the Urania Cottage to help young women who had to turn to “a life of immorality”.
She sought to improve the lives of indigenous Africans and pushed for the education and relief of the poor or suffering in all parts of the world.
In 1869 she became a pioneer in social housing by founding Columbia Market at Bethnal Green in the East End of London.
Her support of missionary and nursing efforts linked her with likes of Louisa Twining and Florence Nightingale.
By the time she died in 1907 she had given away in excess of £3 million to good causes. As a mark of respect some 30,000 people filed past her coffin before her body was interned in Westminster Abbey.
Oh, and it’s Elizabeth Windsor’s birthday as well.
An interesting point to me is that her social housing at Columbia Market, the U-shaped Columbia Dwellings, were demolished in 1958. They were then later replaced by Sivill House in 1962 which was designed by Douglas Bailey, Francis Skinner and Berthold Lubetkin who founded the architectural group Tecton.