Priscilla Wakefield (born Bell) was born in Tottenham. Her father was a successful coal merchant with a small wharf on the River Lea at Craven Park Road for the delivery of coals from London. she married Edward Wakefield, a merchant, in 1771. She was the aunt of Elizabeth Fry (the prison reformer).
Priscilla Wakefield the writer
Priscilla had a national reputation as a writer of children’s books on botany, entomology and travel. Her Juvenile anecdotes, founded on facts was first published in 1775. It was so well received that it had reached an eighth edition by 1825. Her best known book was The Juvenile travellers, a description of an imaginary tour through Europe, which went through nineteen editions between 1801 and 1850.
Priscilla Wakefield the philanthropist
While Priscilla’s national reputation was as a children’s writer, her local reputation in Tottenham was as a philanthropist.
Lying-in Charity for Women
In 1791 Priscilla formed the Lying-in Charity for Women. Supported by annual subscription, it provided help to about 120 poor women a year during childbirth, providing linen and a small amount of money. It continued well into the nineteenth century.
School for Industry
This was founded in 1792, largely as a result of efforts by Priscilla Wakefield. It was originally for thirty six girls who were taught reading, writing, sewing, knitting and arithmetic. It was built on a site practically opposite what is now Bruce Grove Station.
Penny Savings Bank
In 1798 Priscilla Wakefield founded the first “frugality bank” in England. This she founded at Ship Inn Yard in Tottenham. It was intended to help people on lower incomes to save money. There were facilities for women and children to save what they could from their income and soon it became a safe and profitable place of saving for labourers and servants. Members paid, according to age, a sum of money each month to entitle them to a pension after age 60 and money if they were sick. Children were encouraged to save a penny a month towards clothing and apprenticeships.
The immense success of this enterprise meant that similar “savings banks” spread throughout the country. They were eventually nationalised in 1865 when the Post Office Savings Bank was established. Penny savings banks continued in schools until 1919, when they were absorbed into the Post Office Savings Bank.