Appeals for Donations for the Ladies’ Charity School

WOMEN. EDUCATION. PHILANTHROPY. W. B. (William Blake), active 1650-1692

The Ladies Charity School-house roll of Highgate: or A subscription of many noble, well-disposed ladies for the easie carrying of it on.

London: s.n. 1680


Octavo: 14.8 x 9.7 cm. 292, [4] p. Collation: [A-S8, T4 (lacking blank leaf T4). With four added engraved plates.


Bound in attractive contemporary black morocco, rebacked, boards gold-ruled in compartments, with ornamental floral tools. A very good copy with occ. light marginal foxing, light dampstain in upper margin of first three leaves, and minor soiling. The final leaf is stained in the bank lower portion, a few printed rules just shaved. Complete with all four engraved plates. The first plate has an allegorical image of Charity personified held aloft by two putti; the second an image of the charity school itself; the third shows Father Time with scythe and hour glass, accompanied by butterflies; the fourth with various butterflies and engraved text (“Time drops pearles from his golden wings…”. Nine copies in North America.

An attractive and unusual book, designed for charitable and philanthropically-minded women to appeal for donations for the Ladies’ Charity School-house of Highgate. 

This book makes a direct appeal to noble women for donations, and provides a most curious receipt: "It is humbly desired, that what you or any of you, most noble Ladies, Gentlewomen, or others, are pleased to bestow or give towards this good and great design, that you would be pleased to take a receipt on the backside of Time, or Charity, sealed with three seales, namely, the Treasurers, Housekeepers, and Registers, and it shall be fairly recorded, and hung up in the School-house to be read of all from Time to Time, to the world's end we hope". 

Some copies are found in which the plate of Old Father Time or Charity are missing. All four plates are present here.

The work commences with a sort of contract for would-be donors, stating the purpose for which their donations will be used. The children who attend the school will be properly clothed, fed, “taught to read, write, and cast accompts, and so put out to trades, in order to live another day”. But if the children are not taught Scripture or do not attend church, the pledge will be revoked. 

The second section is a manual (a sort of salesman’s primer) of practical tips for persuading prospects to donate: “An essay, or humble guess, how the Noble ladies may be inclined to give to, and Encourage their charity school”. It gives examples of the sorts of protestations, excuses, or negative replies that will be met with and how to answer them persuasively. This is followed by a series of example letters addressed to various donors, women and men of high status.

The rest of the volume is occupied by “Silver drops, or, serious things”, written by William Blake, “house-keeper to the Ladies’ Charity-School".

William Blake of Covent Garden, woolen draper, son of Francis Blake of Highgate Esq, was the founder and house-keeper of the Ladies Charity School on Highgate Hill, where "near forty Poor, or Fatherless Children" were "taught to Read, Write, and Cast Accompts". In a Merlinus Anonymous for 1655 the "new Hospital at Highgate" is mentioned, and in 1682 Blake acquired Dorchester House, across the green, as a boarding house for the girls. During the next six years six houses were built on the estate. 

Apart from their rent and occasional contributions from a few London parishes, a number of pious and wealthy ladies were the main source of income for the school. Blake struggled in his fund-raising; having mortgaged his property and alienated his family, he was imprisoned for debt in the Fleet, and in 1687 the parish of St. Giles-in-the-Fields offered £10 towards his release. His will was proved in 1695. 

“The Lady's Charity School, so pleasantly situated on Highgate Hill near London, being built and more especially dedicated to them for their most Christian Charity and Praise, and to the honour of our Protestant Religion, for Poor and Fatherless Children, Boys or Girls (which either they or their Honorable Husbands, Lords, Knights, Gentlemen, Governors or other good Benefactors shall recommend) being about 9, 10 or 11 years of age, who shall be all decently clothed in blue lin'd with yellow, and everything answerable. The Boys taught the art of Painting, Gardening, Casting Accompt and Navigation or put forth to some good handicraft trade. The Girls taught to Read, Write, Sew, Starch, Raise, Paint and Dress yet they may be fitt for any good service. And any Person above said may send in from any place, Boy or Girl, French or English, who either hath or will procure to be given 50 pounds to the said School. And if everything succeed not to their comfort and satisfaction they shall command 3 parts of their money back at ye year's end, their being many Honorable and Worthy Governors and if at this time a few Children of the persecuted French Protestants should be admitted, it would be great Charity to them and advantageous to both in matter of Language. If 2 or 3 Persons joyne together and send one in, it is the same thing. Likewise they who give 5, 10 or 20 guineas towards the Building or Endowing the said School shall also have their Names fairly registered to be read of all in future ages, for Promoters of so Honourable, and so Pyous a Designe.”(Survey of London: Volume 17, the Parish of St Pancras Part 1: the Village of Highgate)

“The Charity School movement began at the end of the 17th century, and it continued to develop in the 18th century. At this time escalating numbers of children were growing up in destitution due to rapid urbanization and a rising population, which came to the attention of philanthropists and reformers. The destitute could receive poor relief from their parish under the Poor Laws. The Poor Law was funded by property owners paying rates to provide assistance to the poor of the same parish. Such relief came in many forms, including cash payment and donations of rent, fuel, food, clothes and, in some cases, employment.”(Fitzwilliam Museum)

ESTC R2137; Wing B3152. Wing suggests a conjectural date of 1670. However, a later work ’For the promoting and advancing the great designed hospital and work-house’ London, [1692?] (ESTC R506776) refers on p.3 to this work as "written some twelve years since". On page 292 the author of “"Silver drops, or, serious things” is identified as William Blake, “house-keeper to the Ladies’ Charity-School".