Remembering Isabella

Isabella Head (b. 1841) was Priscilla’s granddaughter. The daughter of Alfred Head (b. 1797) and Elen Cooper.  Alfred was the second eldest child of Priscilla’s daughter Bell. I have come across this book for sale on the Internet. It is not listed in the British Library or the Library of Congress. The Library of the Society of Friends do not hold a copy.

I am wondering if Isabella continued the philanthropic works of her mother or grandmother? This book may be able to describe those activities and if so I would be interested in finding out more about Isabella.

Note: this post has been updated following new information. I had confused Priscilla’s daughter and granddaughter.

Published in: on September 18, 2011 at 9:07 am  Leave a Comment  


Of Priscilla’s three children, her eldest son Edward (1774 – 1854), would be the child who would become well known in his own right. He grew up in London and would have been a witness to his father’s financial incompetence that effectively drove his parents back to Tottenham. Unfortunately, it was a trait that he would also inherit.  He married Susannah Crush at the age of 17 and two years later the first of their 10 children a daughter Catherine was born. Edward had a number of farming and business ventures but in wheeling and dealing he often came out on the losing side of the ledger. In his early adulthood, as the number of children increased, Priscilla’s caring concern was probably interpreted as interfering. But when things were going badly it would always be Priscilla who would take in the grandchildren and support poor Susan.  

Like his mother Edward was interested in writing, His most significant work was Ireland, Statistical and Political, published in 1812 it was a two volume publication the result of four years research. The inclusion of a folded map of Ireland inside the cover is not entirely unexpected. But his politics was more radical than his mothers. He rejected Quakerism,  became involved with a number of reforming initiatives and associated with people such as James Mill and Francis Place. Some stability in his life came when he went into business as a land agent in 1814. The broken-down Susan died in 1816 but it is clear Edward had lost interest in the relationship years before. He remarried in 1822 to Frances Davis the daughter of the headmaster of Macclesfield Grammar School.

As a young man Edward was impulsive and directionless. It is not unsurprising that  his son exhibited similar traits. As a child Edward Gibbon Wakefield (EGW) would test the patient Priscilla to her limits and as he grew older he considered elopements with wealthy young women to be a career option. In historical terms, the son would gain a far greater renowen than the father but the key to understanding EGW lies in his early life experiences and his relationships with his father, mother and grandmother.

Published in: on July 18, 2011 at 5:07 am  Leave a Comment  


Priscilla’s son Edward married Susannah Crush (1767-1816) in 1791. Edward was seventeen and his bride was twenty-four. She was described as beautiful but her subsequent life would rob her of her beauty, her health and possibly, her state of mind.

Susan and Edward had ten children between 1793 and 1813. It is recorded that all but the last baby survived to adulthood.  However, date ‘gaps’ at the beginning of their marriage and between the first and second child might suggest the existence of babies that died. Susan experienced a continual cycle of pregnancy and weaning followed by another pregnancy. This, along with illness and Edward’s loss of interest in the marriage hastened her descent into some form of mental illness. She died aged forty-eight.

The life of poor Susan Wakefield is noted only in reference to the proposition that she was the incompetent mother of sons that gained some notoriety. However Priscilla’s journal entries about Susan indicate a close relationship between the two. Priscilla was inclined criticise some aspects of Susan’s child rearing but Susan, as her daughter-in-law and mother of her grandchildren, was naturally encompassed into her circle of care and concern. Unlike Priscilla she did not survive marriage to a Wakefield and remains a shadowy figure on the fringes of the Wakefield story.

Published in: on April 22, 2011 at 9:06 am  Leave a Comment  

Bell – Isabella Head

Bell is Priscilla’s pet name for her beloved daughter Isabella (1773-1841).  From Priscilla’s journal entries it is clear they were very close. In 1799  Bell married Joshua Head and moved to Ipswich. At the news of the eminent arrival of a new baby Priscilla would aim to be on hand to assist her daughter. Priscilla’s health began to fail in her 60s and in 1813 she went to live permanently with Bell in Ipswich.

Published in: on February 28, 2011 at 9:41 am  Leave a Comment  


Priscilla’s journal entries at the end of the 1790s are full of references to her youngest surviving son Daniel (1776-1846). With her other children, Isabella and Edward married, Dan’s London lifestyle and was a source of concern for his mother. She constantly worried about his prospects, his friends and the temptations of the metropolis. In 1798 he had taken up a position in the Navy Pay Office and studied law later qualifying as a lawyer. By Wakefield standards he married late in life at the age of 29 in 1805. Unfortunately, his bride Isabel Mackie turned out to be a swindler racking up debts of many thousands of pounds. Dan’s legal career was in peril but the debts were eventually paid. Isabella committed suicide in 1813 and Dan remarried soon after to Elizabeth Kilgour.

Source: Priscilla Wakefield’s journals, Temple, Philip. A Sort of Conscience: The Wakefields, Auckland University Press, 2002, pp.20-21.

Published in: on December 31, 2010 at 7:30 am  Leave a Comment  

Moving on

In The Traveller in Africa, published in 1814, Priscilla moves the story of the Middleton family through time to age her characters. At the beginning of the book we are told that Mrs Middleton had died, Catherine was married and Louisa lived with her and that Edwin was studying law. Arthur had attended Cambridge for three years but the changes in his family, especially the death of his mother, had left him alone but also free to pursue his desire for travel.

Although the title suggests a single traveller the character of  Sancho is included in Arthur’s journey to Africa.The circumstances of  Sancho’s life had also changed with the death of his wife.

The progression in the life story of the Middleton family is interesting in itself and reinforces the idea that Priscilla may have been based some of the characters on the Wakefield grandchildren

Published in: on October 30, 2010 at 7:23 am  Leave a Comment  


Priscilla’s journal for the year 1798 reveals some of the detailed aspects of her life. In her 48th year she was very active and busy. Family is always at the forefront of her concerns, from the health of her father, to the London lifestyle of her son Daniel and the upbringing of her grandchildren. She had a close relationship with her Bell sisters and brother and there is a constant round of visiting and dining.

Financial worries are a  theme. Occasionally a change of fortune seems to be on the horizon but never totally eventuates. Priscilla’s writing is an important component of the family’s finances. She writes not just for the money but it is also a creative outlet.

In the wider community she is always thinking of ways to assist people with soup schemes and the development of benefit clubs although she often has to struggle to see her vision realised.

Like many women in this century Priscilla was concerned with a lack of time especially to devote to her writing. Family demands always come first.  She gives the sense that she knows she is a successful woman but her Journals  also reveal occasional expressions of self doubt and personal admonishment.

Following is a link to a transcript of Priscilla’s 1798 Journal.

Published in: on August 8, 2010 at 9:15 pm  Leave a Comment  

Priscilla’s home in Tottenham

According to information on the Haringey Council website Priscilla lived near what is now the High Cross United Reform Church on 310 High Road, Tottenham.

Approximately here from Google Maps (

London N15 4BN, UK (High Cross URC, Tottenham, High Cross High Road)

Published in: on April 13, 2010 at 11:31 pm  Leave a Comment  


A closer examination of the BDM Registers (see Babies post) suggests an alternative to what is known about Priscilla.

We know she had three children that lived to adulthood and two that died. It is also possible she had another baby that died.

The following has not been verified. Note the difference in the spelling of the two children born in 1775 and died 1779 – possibly a transcription error?

A search using Priscilla’s name only seem to locate births of her children and not burials whereas a search using Edward’s name reveals both.

Edward Wakefield & Priscilla Bell marry in 1771.

1772 – burial – Edward died aged 2 weeks father named as Edward Wakefield

1773 – birth – Isabella – survived to adulthood

1774 – birth – Edward – survived to adulthood

1775 – birth – Barclay

1775 – birth – Banlay

1776 – birth – Daniel – survived to adulthood

1779 – burial – Berkley- died aged 3, on 18 April 1779, father Edward Wakefield 

1779 – burial – Berkler – father Edward Wakefield

Note: Jonathan Bell’s memoir states that ‘two or three of Priscilla’s infants died’.

Published in: on March 28, 2010 at 7:19 pm  Comments (3)  

Edwin & Arthur Middleton

Arthur Middleton becomes the central character for Priscilla’s travel books. He is first introduced in A Family Tour as a 14 year old with his younger brother Edwin. Edwin is described as ‘a more silent character, and, from his diffidence, less pleasing to strangers; but he was his superior in attention and industry’.  (A Family Tour p. 7) Quiet and emotional Edwin is a counter to his more outgoing brother.  What was to come is signalled by the following quote from Arthur, ‘novelty delights me ; when I am a man, I will travel all over the world’. (A Family Tour  p. 3).

In the travel book series Arthur journeys to North America, Africa and Asia including India and China. During that time the Middleton family characters age and their circumstances change.

On whom the characters of Edwin and Arthur Middleton are modelled is unknown. Likely candidates could be Priscilla’s sons Edward and Daniel or the grandsons Edward Gibbon and Arthur

Published in: on March 28, 2010 at 2:48 am  Leave a Comment