Wakefield, Priscilla (DNB00)

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WAKEFIELD, Mrs. PRISCILLA (1751–1832), author and philanthropist, born at Tottenham on 31 Jan. 1751, was the eldest daughter of Daniel Bell of Stamford Hill, Middlesex, by his wife Catharine, daughter of David Barclay of London, and granddaughter of Robert Barclay (1648–1690) [q. v.] , the author of the ‘Apology’ for the quakers. On 3 Jan. 1771 she was married to Edward Wakefield (1750–1826), a merchant of Lad Lane (now Gresham Street), London. Mrs. Wakefield was eminent for her philanthropic undertakings. She was one of the earliest promoters of savings banks, establishing several under the name of ‘frugality banks.’ She resided at Tottenham, and almost the first savings bank in existence was that founded by her there, in what is now the Ship Inn Yard. It was commenced under the auspices of a friendly society established by her at Tottenham on 22 Oct. 1798 (Reports of the Soc. for bettering the Condition of the Poor, vol. i.) She also formed in Tottenham a charity for lying-in women in 1791.

Mrs. Wakefield, however, was most widely known as a writer of children's books. Her first publication, entitled ‘Juvenile Anecdotes, founded on Facts,’ London, 12mo, appeared in two volumes in 1795 and 1798. It was well received, and reached an eighth edition in 1825. Encouraged by her success, she published other books of the same nature, and of a more advanced character, dealing with science and travel. The best known of her works is ‘The Juvenile Travellers,’ the description of an imaginary tour through Europe. It appeared in 1801, and reached a nineteenth edition in 1850. Mrs. Wakefield had considerable knowledge of botany and natural history, and in 1796 she published ‘An Introduction to Botany, in a Series of Familiar Letters,’ London, 12mo, which was translated into French in 1801, and reached an eleventh edition in 1841. It was followed by ‘An Introduction to the Natural History and Classification of Insects, in a Series of Letters,’ London, 1816, 12mo. Mrs. Wakefield died at the house of her daughter, Mrs. Head, on Albion Hill, Ipswich, on 12 Sept. 1832, and was buried on 20 Dec. in the Friends' burial-ground at the New Meeting House, Ipswich. A portrait of Mrs. Wakefield and her sister, Mrs. Gurney, painted by Gainsborough, was exhibited at South Kensington in 1868 (Cat. Third Loan Exhib. No. 887). A portrait in lithograph is in the London Friends' Institute. She was a member of the Society of Friends, and conformed to their religious practice, but did not observe their restrictions in regard either to dress or to abstinence from amusements. Mrs. Elizabeth Fry was her niece. She had two sons and a daughter. The sons—Edward [q. v.] and Daniel [q. v.]—are separately noticed. The daughter, Isabella (d. 17 Oct. 1841), married Jeremiah Head of Ipswich. Edward Gibbon Wakefield [q. v.] was her grandson.

Besides the works mentioned, Mrs. Wakefield was the author of: 1. ‘Leisure Hours, or Entertaining Dialogues,’ London, 1794–1796, 2 vols. 8vo; 7th edit. 1821, 12mo. 2. ‘Mental Improvement, or the Beauties and Wonders of Nature and Art; conveyed in a Series of Instructive Conversations,’ London, 1797, 2 vols. 12mo; 11th ed. 1820, 24mo. 3. ‘Reflections on the Present Condition of the Female Sex, with Suggestions for its Improvement,’ London, 1798, 8vo; 2nd ed. 1817, 12mo. 4. ‘A Family Tour through the British Empire,’ Philadelphia, 1804, 12mo; 15th ed. London, 1840, 12mo. 5. ‘Domestic Recreation, or Dialogues illustrative of Natural and Scientific Subjects,’ London, 1805, 12mo; new ed. 1818. 6. ‘Excursions in North America,’ London, 1806, 12mo; 3rd ed. 1819. 7. ‘Sketches of Human Manners,’ London, 1807, 12mo; 7th ed. 1826. 8. ‘Variety, or Selections and Essays,’ London, 1809, 12mo. 9. ‘Perambulations in London and its Environs,’ London, 1810, 12mo; 2nd ed. 1814. 10. ‘Instinct Displayed, or Facts exemplifying the Sagacity of various Species of Animals,’ London, 1811, 12mo; new ed. 1831. 11. ‘The Traveller in Africa,’ London, 1814, 12mo. 12. ‘A brief Memoir of the Life of William Penn,’ London, 1817, 12mo. 13. ‘The Traveller in America,’ London, 1817, 8vo. 14. ‘A Catechism of Botany,’ London [1817?], 8vo.

[Biographical Catalogue of Friends and others whose portraits are in the London Friends' Institute, 1888; Annual Monitor, 1833, p. 45; Gent. Mag. 1832, ii. 650; Smith's Catalogue of Friends' Books; Ipswich Journal, 15 Sept. 1832; Garnett's Edward Gibbon Wakefield, 1898; Robinson's Hist. of Tottenham, 1840, ii. 281; Pritzel's Thesaurus Lit. Botan. 1872, p. 337; Jackson's Guide to the Literature of Botany, 1881, p. 36; Brit. Mus. Add. MSS. 19170 f. 226, 19174 f. 370.]

E. I. C.