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Exhibition Summary

This exhibition examines eight English samplers in the Fitzwilliam Museum’s collection made by schoolgirls from poor or modest backgrounds in the 18th and 19th centuries. The inscriptions not only include the makers’ name, age, year and moral text, but also the school in which the girls received their education. The eight examples in this exhibition provide a fascinating glimpse into the past, and can illuminate the life experiences of these young stitchers. In some cases scant information exists on the girls and these school room objects are the only proof of their existence. Nevertheless, their needlework serves as a testament to their patience and skill, and are invaluable historical documents that can tell us personal stories about the girls who made these classroom items.

The samplers have been arranged chronologically in the exhibition, according to the year in which they were stitched.

The institutions mentioned on the samplers are:

  • Ackworth School (Pontefract, West Yorkshire).
  • Brierley Hill School (Dudley, West Midlands).
  • Bristol Orphan Houses (Bristol).
  • Finchampstead (near Wokingham, Berkshire).
  • Haverhill School (Haverhill, Suffolk).
  • Kirtling School (Kirtling, Cambridgeshire).
  • Royal Freemasons’ School for Female Children (St George’s Fields, London).
  • St Clement Danes School (Westminster, London).

Some of the schools were founded by religious groups or wealthy or philanthropic individuals, including John Fothergill (1712-1780), instigator of Ackworth; Bartholomew Ruspini (c.1728-1813), founder of the Freemasons’ School; and George Müller (1805-1898) of the Bristol orphanages.

N.B. Full citation of texts and other sources can be found in the bibliography.