Tottenham Cake, Quakers, and school

From: A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 5, Hendon, Kingsbury, Great Stanmore, Little Stanmore, Edmonton Enfield, Monken Hadley, South Mimms, Tottenham. Originally published by Victoria County History, London (1976):

“…Until the spread of working-class housing in the 1870s Tottenham was noted for its private schools. largely patronized by London families. As early as c. 1670 Mark Lewis advertised a ‘gymnasium’, specializing in languages, and in 1673 Mrs. Bathsua Makin, formerly tutor to Charles I’s daughter Elizabeth, announced a wide curriculum in her prospectus for a girls’ school.”


“Tottenham Cake is a local well-known delicacy, sold country-wide. It is a tray-baked sponge cake topped with very sweet, pink icing. Originally produced by a local baker, the Quaker Henry Chalkley, it was sold for a penny a ‘cube’ (one old penny of course), with smaller pieces only a half penny. The distinctive pink colouring is said to have originated by using mulberries which grew in the grounds of the Meeting House of the Tottenham Friends (Quakers) on Tottenham High Road.

When Tottenham Hotspur Football Club won the FA Cup for the first time in 1901, the cake was given free to local children in celebration of this historic win for Spurs. Local Quakers still make Tottenham Cake today and it is also sold in high street bakers.

The origins of Tottenham Cake and how it was made was showcased on ‘The Great British Bake Off’, first broadcast Tuesday 17 September 2013 on BBC2.

On BBC Radio 4’s The Media Show (broadcast 16 October 2013, 4.30pm), the Controller of BBC2, Janice Hadlow (educated at comprehensive school in Swanley (now called Orchards Academy); her post was abolished when she left the BBC in 2016) said that it was only through the Great British Bake Off that she learned about Tottenham cake and its Quaker origins.”

(Wikipedia): “Originally “a peculiar local invention” of north London, the cake is now mass-produced by the Percy Ingle chain of bakers.”

From the website of Tottenham Quaker Meeting:

“The message preached by George Fox was that how you live your life is more important than ritual and dogma.

The early period of Quakerism (1652 to 1688) is marked by else by the unrelenting persecution suffered by its members.

George Fox visited Quakers in Tottenham in 1689. He had been in London.

“But I found my body would no longer bear the city; wherefore, … I went to Tottenham High Cross and from thence to… Winchmore Hill, and to Enfield; spending three weeks among Friends thereabouts, and had Meetings at all those places.”

Fox visited Tottenham Friends again in 1690. By 1691, Tottenham Monthly Meeting was formed.

Tottenham village was relatively near to London and communication with the City may have been an important consideration for settling here. Rural and quiet, Tottenham village was also far enough away from London to be peaceful and a pleasant place to live. It also had a reputation for being a healthy place.

Reference to Quakers in Tottenham prior to 1689 is hard to come by. One early Tottenham Friend appears to have been William Briggins, a Tottenham tobacco merchant and brewer. His son Peter kept a diary. In it he recounts how his father was imprisoned for visiting Gracechurch Street Meeting some time in the 1670s…

Quakers in general, and Tottenham Quakers in particular, had a long interest in education. When George Fox visited Tottenham in 1689 he held Meetings in a school for women at High Cross, run by Bridge Austell.

When negotiations were in progress for the possible building of the first meeting house, the presence of two well-established Quaker schools was presented as additional reason for the Meeting to continue. These schools belonged to Richard Claridge and Alice Hays and were situated in Old Ship Yard at High Cross.

Eagle House, another private Quaker school in Tottenham, opened in the early nineteenth century.

In 1828 Grove House School was founded by Thomas Binns, who served as the first headmaster. It replaced Forster’s School, which had closed two years earlier. Provision was made to teach French, German, Latin, Writing and Drawing. The boys were all from Quaker families or had Quaker relatives.

The school stood on the south side of Tottenham Green. It eventually closed in 1879. In 1897 the site was purchased by Tottenham Council and became the Tottenham Polytechnic (now College of North East London).

On the closure of Grove House School, activity was transferred to a new Quaker school in Reading, Leighton Park School, which is still running today.”

From Wikipedia:

“Grove House School was a Quaker school in Tottenham, United Kingdom.

The school was established in 1828 as a boarding school for boys of the Quaker community, initially under Thomas Binns. One of its founders was Josiah Forster, who had attended the Quaker school his grandfather had founded in 1752, Forster’s School, also in Tottenham. Its curriculum was advanced for its time, and it did not use corporal punishment. After languishing around 1850, it was enlarged by Arthur Robert Abbott, who admitted non-Quaker boys but after buying the school in 1877, closed it, and took Anglican orders. It was located on the south side of Tottenham Green next to the building of a former Quaker school which had closed some two years before its opening. The site was acquired for Tottenham Polytechnic which became the College of North East London (now the College of Haringey, Enfield and North East London following a merger with Enfield College August 2009).

In 1890, the Quakers were to found another school, Leighton Park School, Reading as a direct descendant of Grove House. Following on from Grove House and in recognition of the earlier foundation of the school, the first senior Boarding House at Leighton Park was named Grove House. Grove House is a work by architect Alfred Waterhouse, who had attended the original Grove House School. Many families from Grove House continued the connection and sent their boys to Leighton Park, such as the Cadburys, Foxes, Frys, Backhouses and Hodgkins.”

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