Ann Bowler Calton, The Royal Freemasons’ School for Female Children

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Front Reverse

Border sampler, c.1830-1840
T.13-1939 ( view catalogue record)

Given by Lady St John Hope.

Wool, embroidered with polychrome silks in cross and satin stitch. Both the top and bottom of the sampler are hemmed; the sides are raw and damaged.

Width: 15 1/8” (38. 5 cm)
Length: 22 1/16” (56 cm)

Sampler Analysis

A 1 7/16” (4cm) wide border of alternating fleur de lys and stylized roses surround the central inscription, the poem ‘Charity’:

CHARITY
O Charity!
Thou principle of great Souls!
how glorious are thy
Works!
Thou createst a new World
in the
Moral and physical order.
Thou preventest a Deluge of
Indigence!
Thou preventest a Deluge of
Vice!
Thou throwest an immortal
Guard round Virgin
Purity!
Thou recallest not the
Dead
but thou givest Life and Health
to the
Diseased
and the
Expiring.

The inscription is from Sermon by Irish preacher Walter Blake Kirwan (1754-1805), Dean of Killala, who regularly preached charity sermons in the 1780s at St Peter’s Church in Dublin.

A carnation is placed in each corner of the border. At the top corners beneath the border are winged cherub heads. A vase of roses and a vase of lilies are placed in the lower corners. The very bottom of the central design includes personal information about the maker and her school:

Ann. Calton Royal Free Mason's School.

Ann’s Story

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Ann Bowler Calton was the daughter of freemason Christopher Calton (b.1767) and his wife, Sarah. Ann was born on 26 September 1820 and christened on 29 October in Melcombe Regis, Dorset. Christopher Calton was 53 when his daughter was born and a decade after her birth, for reasons unknown, he and his wife could no longer raise their daughter. One explanation might be that he suffered with ill health at this time, preventing him from working and earning a living to support his family. In earlier life he had worked as an innkeeper in Weymouth.

On Thursday 14 January 1830, Ann Calton and two other girls were nominated for entry into The Royal Freemasons’ School for Female Children, founded in 1788 by Bartholomew Ruspini (c.1728-1813). As a prominent member of the All Saint’s Lodge in Weymouth from 1805-1808, Calton was likely to have been aware of the benevolent institution that would provide his daughter with an education, protection and accommodation. After her successful medical examination by the school’s doctor, Mr John Boys, the approval of her father’s certificate of initiation into freemasonry, evidence of her ‘reduced circumstances’, her parent’s marriage certificate and the presentation of several other certificates, including register of birth, Ann was admitted into the school on 22 April 1830. For ten years, Ann remained at the school, St. George’s Field, receiving an education in the principles of the Christian religion, reading, writing, arithmetic and needlework.

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Register of Girls Admitted into the School (RMIG 3/2/1/1, p. 23). Copyright, and reproduced by permission, of The Library and Museum of Freemasonry, London.

Unfortunately, no documents survive to inform us which needlework methods and instruction books the girls followed in class. But judging from other schools it is likely that needlework instruction was similar to the National and British and Foreign Schools teaching systems. In addition to sampler making, the girls made and mended their own clothes, as well as selling items of clothing, table cloths, napkins at the charity sermons to raise money for the school. Each month the school matron presented an account of the girl’s needlework to one of the school’s governors, and each year the girls would be subject to a public examination in front of an audience consisting of various school governors and guests. For instance, in the annual examination of 1832, conductor George Smart (1776-1867) attended the public examination. Those who had shown ‘meritorious conduct’ in their work, such as needlework, reading, household work, received a prize, usually a morocco or leather workbox.

On 24 July 1834, Ann is listed in the minute books for receiving a prize for her needlework. Unfortunately, the records do not mention what prize she received, but it is possible that she received a workbox.

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Extract from Minute Book Showing Girls Awarded Prizes in 1834 (RMIG 1/1/1/5, p. 239). Copyright, and reproduced by permission, of The Library and Museum of Freemasonry, London.

Ann was initially documented in the school minutes as leaving in 1835, aged 15- as was the norm. This entry was subsequently crossed out and a new departure date of 8 May 1840 recorded. Ann was now aged 20.

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Register of Ann Bowler Calton’s Departure Date (RMIG 3/2/1/1, p. 23). Copyright, and reproduced by permission, of The Library and Museum of Freemasonry, London.

As it was highly unlikely for her to be receiving an education at this age, it is most probable that she stayed on as a pupil teacher, instructing the younger girls in their lessons.

At the current school site in Rickmansworth there are three other samplers, one of which commemorates ‘The Grand Jubilee Fête’ of 1838. The top right side of the sampler has ‘Names of the Children’ stitched in between two Corinthian columns. The first name to appear under this heading is ‘A. Calton’, our Ann.

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© The Royal Masonic School for Girls, Rickmansworth

The sampler is slightly inaccurate as Ann was not a pupil at this time, for the reasons mentioned above. No evidence exists to prove who stitched this enormous sampler.

After leaving the school Ann returned to the care of a friend in Weymouth. A year later she is recorded as working as a governess, living in Uggscombe with several other young women who were also governesses. In the 1870s, from the age of 50, Ann lived as a lodger with stonemason Richard Attwell (b.1814), his wife Eliza and granddaughter Mary Ann Chick in Cove Street, Dorset. Ten years later, she was still living with this family and is recorded as working as a seamstress. Ann died unmarried in 1885, aged 65, and had £90 16s (approx. £4, 400) in her personal estate. Ann’s adept use of the needle remained with her throughout her life and allowed her to earn money, keeping her out of destitution. And as a daughter of a freemason, the brotherhood continued to provide care and protection for her long after she left school.

History of the Freemasons’ School

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Print of Freemasons’ Charity for Female Children, London: G. Jones, 1814. Copyright, and reproduced by permission, of the Library and Museum of Freemasonry, London.

From the time the school opened in 1788 to the present day, it changed location four times. The school was first located at Somers Place East, in Somers Town, London, and was called the ‘Royal Cumberland Freemason’s School’, as the Duchess of Cumberland was the school’s patroness. The first school accommodated 15 girls under the care of Matron Mrs Ann Le Clerc. In 1795, the school moved to 28 Westminster Road, St George’s Field and accommodated over 25 girls in this newly built three-storey school, now called ‘The Royal Freemasons’ School for Female Children’. The third location for the school was St John’s Hill, Battersea Rise in 1852, but the girls referred to it as ‘Clapham J’. By 1864 nearly 100 girls attended and boarded at the school. The fourth and final move came in 1926 to a site in Rickmansworth, at which time the school was designed to accommodate 400 girls. It remains the present location for ‘The Royal Masonic Institution for Girls’.

To be accepted into the school during Ann Calton’s time, a girl’s father had to be initiated into a Freemason’s lodge and the daughter had to be a ‘proper object of charity’, which usually meant that either one or both parents were dead, or that she was living in desperate circumstances. The girls entered the school aged between 8 and 10 and left at 15. From the early 20th century onwards, girls were permitted to remain in education at the school until the age of 18.

Bartholomew Ruspini (c.1728-1813)

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Copyright, and reproduced by permission, of The Library and Museum of Freemasonry, London.

Ruspini was an Italian dentist who practiced in England in 1752. He was initiated into the Bush Lodge in 1762 in Bristol and from then on became actively involved in freemasonry by holding offices in many London lodges and founding the Nine Muses Lodge in 1777. He introduced the Prince Regent to freemasonry and was a founder member of the Prince of Wales’ Lodge in 1787. Ruspini’s founding of the Royal Cumberland Freemasons’ School in 1788, along with nine fellow freemasons, was an indication of his charitable and philanthropic nature and of the benevolent outlook of the brotherhood overall.

What is Freemasonry?

Freemasonry is a secular fraternal society. Members seek moral and spiritual improvement, which is taught within the fraternity using ancient ritual dramas. Symbolism and allegory feature prominently. Freemasons dedicate their efforts to charitable causes and to helping those in need.

The origins of the society are esoteric and subject to speculation, although freemasonry is believed to have originated from the organisation of stone masons, those involved with the construction of cathedrals and churches in the Middle Ages. More written evidence and documents of initiated masons appeared in the 16th century. There are a quarter of a million freemasons under the United Grand Lodge of England today.


The Fitzwilliam Museum : Ann Bowler Calton c.1830-1840

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