The first women's university settlement was founded by women from Girton and Newnham Colleges at Cambridge University, Lady Margaret and Somerville Colleges at Oxford University and Bedford and Royal Holloway Universities. Among them, Helen Gladstone the daughter of he Prime Minister and Octavia Hill, housing reformer and founder of the National Trust. Its objective was to "promote the welfare of the poorer districts of London, more especially of the women and children, by devising and advancing schemes which tend to elevate them, and by giving them additional opportunities in education and recreation".
Women from London colleges were invited to live at the Settlement rent free in exchange for their work in the community.
The Settlement was based at 44 Nelson Square. During World War II bombs fell on the square damaging the Settlement buildings and destroying neighbouring buildings. Despite the damage, the Settlement continued its work and helped local families made homeless by bomb damage. In 1940 the Queen visited the Settlement in recognition of its war time public services.
The Settlement changed its focus in 1950 towards becoming a centre with more involvement from local residents. New areas of work included ex-offenders, children with learning difficulties and a workshop for older people. The Settlement changed its name in 1961 to Blackfriars Settlement as both an acknowledgement of men's involvement and as an attempt to include the local community in its work.
In 1992 Blackfriars Settlement moved into the Rushworth Street building, into purpose built accommodation. Youth and play moved some years later to Living Space, on Waterloo Road.