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Jane Brady, Ackworth School


Darning sampler, dated 1785
T.15-1939 (view catalogue record)

Given by the Friends of the Fitzwilliam.

Coarse linen, embroidered with light brown silk. The edges are turned under and stitched.

Width: 8 1/2" (21.6 cm)
Length: 8 5/8” (22 cm)

Sampler Analysis

The sampler comprises 5 examples of pattern or damask darning, and inscription:

Jane Brady
Ackworth School

Jane’s Story

Jane Brady (1773-1832) was the daughter of Quakers Thomas (1733-1793) and Rachel Brady of Thorne, Yorkshire. Jane was a scholar at Ackworth School from 1783-86, admission number 583. She married Daniel Wheeler, a Quaker missionary, aged 27, in 1800. Eighteen years into marriage, she and her husband set sail for Russia and she died there in 1832, aged 59.

History of Ackworth

Founded in 1779 by John Fothergill (1712-1780), Ackworth School, near Pontefract, Yorkshire was for Quaker children of both sexes ‘not in affluence’. When the school first opened, fees were 8 guineas a year. Originally, the buildings at Ackworth had been constructed as an outpost of the London Foundling Hospital, founded in 1741 by sea captain Thomas Coram (1668-1751). The government made a grant in 1756 stipulating that no child should be turned away from the Foundling Hospital’s doors. As a result the Hospital became inundated with children. It was then that the governors decided to build similar institutions in rural areas, with Ackworth as one of the chosen sites. But in 1773 the government withdrew its grant and the building was closed and put up for sale.

Four years later during the London Yearly Meeting of the Society of Friends, it was agreed that a boarding school should be set up for struggling Quaker children; all that was required was a building for it. In the six years between the closure of the Foundling site and the opening of Ackworth, Fothergill and several others persuaded the Society of Friends to purchase the empty Foundling building to be used as a boarding school for Quaker children, and in 1779 Ackworth School opened.

The school emphasised quiet reflection during morning meetings, and scholars were encouraged to search for God within themselves and in others. In addition to manual work and the school curriculum (reading, spelling and arithmetic) the children were also expected to make a small contribution to the school’s finances by selling their products, such as the girls’ needlework. The Monitorial System was used at Ackworth whereby elder scholars would participate in educating the younger ones. Normal age for entry was around 9 and scholars were expected to complete their education between one and three years before entering employment or returning home. In the first decades very few scholars remained at the school beyond 13.

John Fothergill (1712-1780)

Born into a Yorkshire Quaker family in 1712, Fothergill was initially apprenticed as an apothecary, later taking the degree of MD at Edinburgh. He was a physician, botanist, abolitionist and philanthropist.

Needlework at Ackworth

Jane Brady’s sampler is both typical and atypical of samplers from Ackworth. The majority were white darning samplers, but coarse linen darning samplers were much less usual. The sampler corresponds to the Quakers’ belief of plainness and simplicity. Fothergill described Ackworth as ‘a school for a plain English education’. Girls spent the majority of their time doing domestic chores and needlework, including sewing, knitting and spinning; younger boys also learnt how to knit. By 1800, the school committee felt that knitting and sewing took up too much of the girls’ time at the expense of learning to write and spell. Ackworth was renowned for producing spelling scholars, and the committee declared that the girls should devote an hour each day to spelling. This did not stop girls from continuing their stitching as many existing samplers and other needlework examples attest.


Quakers are members of a Christian religious group that began in 17th-century England, known as the Religious Society of Friends, and is still active today. Quakers value human beings equally, believing that God resides in every person and so all must be treated with respect and humanity. Ritual and ceremony do not feature in Quakerism, as they are considered as unnecessary hindrances between the individual and God. During communal worship, either at home or in a meeting house, Quakers remain in silent, spiritual contemplation. The stillness is broken only when a member of the congregation feels inspired to speak.