Priscilla Wakefield was an extraordinary woman. Not just a philanthropist and educationalist she was also an economist who initiated the savings bank and found time to write a long list of children’s non-fiction books.
She was born and bred in Tottenham – so it comes as something of a surprise to learn that she is not that well known in her own backyard.
“I had never even heard of her,” admitted local historian Margaret Burr. “But I was researching Luke Howard and stumbled across this remarkable woman. She’s my new heroine and now I just want everyone to know about her.”
Margaret has since set up a website devoted to her new heroine and was recently invited to talk to residents and dignitaries at a special event in the Priscilla Wakefield House Nursing Home in Tottenham.
“What Margaret told us was just amazing,” said Sue Ann Balcombe, manager at the home. “And just to know that we are named after someone like that is very special. She made such a great contribution locally and nationally and supported women which made me feel proud. I am now going to put information about Priscilla at our reception so people can learn more about this fascinating woman.”
In an entertaining talk Margaret told us that Priscilla could be regarded as the mother of microsavings as she was probably the first person to conceive of the idea of a savings bank open to all people of small means. Under her guidance a society for the benefit of women and children was established in 1798 at Tottenham High Cross to prevent the use of a pawnbroker’s shop and set up a bank for the earnings of poor children.
A strong believer in social justice she also called for institutions to be set up to train women teachers, and in 1791 formed the Lying-in Charity for Women which provided help to 120 poor woman a year during childbirth.
“She said, ‘The greatest thing is to confer happiness,’” said Margaret. “And I just love her spirit. She lived her life to the full and was a pioneer in so many fields.”
“I suggested the name of this nursing home when it was first built,” said Cllr Sheila Peacock afterwards. “I thought it made sense because it is right next to Wakefield Road and it would pay tribute to one of Tottenham’s heroines.”
“What a woman!” said Kathleen Winterbottom. “I live in the area and just came along today knowing nothing about the subject but I’ve learned so much.”
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