There have been many Americans that have left their mark on London. One such individual was the philanthropist George Peabody. Born in Danvers (later renamed Peabody), Massachusetts in 1795; he made his fortune as a merchant and banker. Despite great wealth, Peabody lived an economical life but his generosity would do much to improve the well-being of Londoners.
London in the mid 19th century was a filthy, overcrowded city. The industrial revolution had led to an enormous influx of workers to the world's pre-eminent metropolis. Poverty and disease went hand in hand with the latest advancements in manufacturing. It would have been impossible not to have seen the terrible conditions that many had to endure. To make matters worse, the arrival of the railway resulted in the destruction of existing homes with no provision being made for replacement properties.
Just like today, housing a growing population was an issue the authorities had not come to grips with. Whilst the traditional almshouse had been around for hundreds of years and the concept (& reputation) of the workhouse was well established, the prospect of properly addressing the problem of the homeless working classes would not be fully tackled until the next century.
Having settled in London in 1837, Peabody observed the negative side of industrialization and by using his considerable fortune was able to shape the framework of social housing in the capital for generations to come. In 1862, he created the Peabody Trust with the goal of providing sustainable accommodation for the deserving poor.
Orderly living in clean and well ventilated dwellings were the intended aims of each newly erected Peabody estate. Purely functional, the early developments were simple brickwork blocks assembled around a communal square. Some of these sites survive to this day outliving numerous ill-conceived housing projects implemented in London during the years following WWII.
One of the first Americans to be buried in Westminster Abbey (albeit temporarily), Peabody's philanthropy undoubtedly helped to inspire economic and social reform in Victorian London and beyond. In 2017, the Peabody Group continues to provide essential homes for individuals and families across the city.
Unveiled during his lifetime, the statue of George Peabody can be found behind the Royal Exchange in the City of London.