HANNAH TOWGOOD WAKEFORD
Hannah Wakeford was the daughter of the Revd Stephen Towgood, an Independent (and later Presbyterian) minister in Devon and Exeter and cousin to Micaiah Towgood (1700-92), one of the leading West Country Presbyterian ministers of the eighteenth century. Stephen Towgood began his ministerial career in a dissenting congregation at Topsham, Devon, before moving in 1743 to the James’s Meeting in Exeter, where he remained until his death in 1777. Whether Hannah Towgood met her future husband, Joseph Wakeford, Jr. (1719-85) of Andover, at Topsham or Exeter is not known. Wakeford’s business interests as a linen draper and banker took him regularly to Exeter, Bristol, Bath, and London. He could have met the Towgoods through a church or business connection, or possibly both, and most likely at Exeter. Whatever the circumstances of their meeting, Hannah Towgood and Joseph Wakeford married on 15 July 1745 at Clyst Honiton, Devon. At the beginning of the second year of her marriage, Hannah Wakeford bore a daughter, also named Hannah, who was baptized at the East Street Independent Chapel in Andover on 26 July 1746. Unfortunately, her birth brought on the premature death of her mother at the age of twenty-one. Hannah Wakeford’s daughter would remain in the Wakeford home and be raised by Joseph’s second wife, Mary Steele Wakeford of Broughton, whom he married in 1749.
Mary Steele (1724-72) was the younger half-sister of Anne Steele and was an active poet herself for some twenty years, despite living in the shadow of the celebrated “Theodosia.” Her work as a poet would have drawn her immediately to the poetry and prose of her predecessor in the Wakeford home who, despite her lack of years, had managed to leave behind a body of poetry and prose of a quality worthy the notice of Mary Wakeford and Anne Steele. A loose folium containing two poems by Hannah Wakeford was sent to Anne Steele from London in 1759 by the Independent minister Philip Furneaux, her close friend and poetic playmate for many years, who attached two poems of his own to the manuscript. Furneaux may have previously seen the poem based upon the occasion of the death of Mrs. Hannah Wakeford, Sr., in Miscellaneous Pieces (1752). The two poems by the younger Hannah Wakeford, however, had apparently circulated for some time through the Steele and Wakeford families. Anne Steele responded to Furneaux in December 1759:
The pieces you sent me wrote by a Lady are indeed excellent, I have long since read them with pleasure, they were both written by M.rs H. W. daughter of M.r Towgood &c. and Wife of M.r J Wakeford of And.r who is now my Bro.r in law. A little mistake or two I take leave to rectify The first was not a birthday, but a New Years Midnight Reflection the other, said to be found after her death, she communicated to M.r Wakeford when she wrote it. I had not the pleasure of being acquainted with her, but she was, by what I have heard, a most amiable woman, she died in the bloom of youth about a year after her marriage.
Hannah Wakeford’s poems and prose writings, as well as copied portions of the diary of Mrs. John Walrond, wife of a Presbyterian minister in Ottery St. Mary, were kept by Joseph and Mary Steele Wakeford and now belong to the Steele Collection in the Angus Library at Regent’s Park College. The poetry and prose in this thin volume was transcribed from Hannah Wakeford’s papers after her death but the transcriber is not known.
Hannah Wakeford’s 20 poems consists of two hymns, one on creation and the other something closer to a meditative poem; eight soliloquies (patterned after those of Elizabeth Singer Rowe); two meditations, including one on the arrival of a New Year, a popular occasion for a poem (Anne Steele, Marianna Attwater, and Mary Steele Wakeford all wrote similar poems); two enigmas (a poetic form also present in the work of Mary Steele Wakeford); two poems on friendship, one affixed to a letter to her friend “Aurelia” and the other to “Camilla,” both women unidentified. Her prose entails six formal published letters to “Aurelia,” seven prose meditations, and some sermon notes on I. Corinthians 1.9.
A substantial collection of Wakeford’s poems and prose writings were published posthumously (probably transcribed by Joseph and Mary Wakeford) between September 1764 and March 1765 in The Christian’s Magazine, or A Treasury of Divine Knowledge. Three poems by Hannah Wakeford (they appear under "Mrs. Wakeford") were later published in the Protestant Dissenters' Magazine: “The Vanity of Wishing” in vol. 1 (1794), pp. 505-06; “A New Year’s Midnight Reflection. By a Lady,” in vol. 2 (1795), p. 121; and “A General Hymn of Praise for Creation," in vol. 3 (1796), p. 233, providing more evidence of how much her descendants, most likely, continued to value her memory as a poet and writer. For the complete poetry, prose, and published correspondence of Hannah Towgood Wakeford, along with a complete biographical account, see Timothy Whelan, Nonconformist Women Writers, 1720-1840, vol. 4 (pp. 107-16) and vol. 8 (pp. 81-104).