Beginning Research on School Samplers

It’s coming up to the fourth week since the Connecting with Collections internships began. How time flies! In that time, I have identified the samplers I will be researching, have read around the subject of educating the poor in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Britain, and I have contacted archivists, school librarians and local history group volunteers to track down any existing documents relating to the schools. The samplers came from St Clement Danes School in Drury Lane, London; The Royal Masonic School for Girls, Somers Place East (the school exists today in Rickmansworth), London; Ackworth School, Yorkshire; Bristol Orphan House; Haverhill School, Suffolk; Finchampstead School, Berkshire; Kirtling School, Cambridgeshire; Brierley Hill School, Dudley. I have also benefitted from the help and extensive knowledge of my mentor, Mrs Carol Humphrey.

The archivists, librarians and volunteers have been tremendously helpful in pointing me in the right direction. After visiting two record offices, London Metropolitan Archives and Westminster Archives, for information on The Royal Masonic School and St Clement Danes, respectively, I have a good idea about how children of the poor were selected into these schools. For example, to join St Clement Danes a boy or girl would be nominated by a subscriber, who provided financial support to the school. This person provided evidence that the child’s parents lived in the parish, that they were from an Anglican family, and that they were from underprivileged backgrounds. Existing records, however, do not tell us exaclty how poor these children were.

Account books for the St Clement Danes school revealed names and payments to singing masters, teachers, book and Bible binders, funeral bearers, shoe makers, which sheds some light onto the individuals involved in running the school and the types of instruction the pupils received. [1] Sampler maker Mary Derow (b.1713) attended the school from 1722-1724 under the care of school mistresses Mrs Amy Parsons and Mrs Armstrong. And in 1723, she completed her sampler at the age of ten, which was given to the Fitzwilliam Museum in 1928. (I do not have my own photograph of this sampler yet. If you would like to see it and read a description of it, please visit the Fitzwilliam’s Online Collection at: http://www.fitzmuseum.cam.ac.uk/explorer/index.php?qu=Mary Derow&oid=110670.) In his published history of the school, Peter Maplestone included a photograph of another sampler made by Mary Window, also in 1723 and aged ten years old.[2] The sampler is almost identical to Mary Derow’s, suggesting that the girls copied from a model sampler, probably made by the mistress. The girls presented their work to the Trustees at Christmas to show what they had accomplished for the year; their work was most likely sold to the benefit of both pupil and the school.[3] Unfortunately, we will never know if Mary Derow and Mary Window sat next to each other as they worked on their exquisite samplers, or even if they were friends. It is also unclear what happened to Mary Derow as her name disappeared from the records after 1724. Nevertheless, by placing Derow’s sampler into a historical background we have an idea of how she passed her time for a few years at St Clement Danes; we have the names of other girls in her class and teachers who gave her instruction in reading, sewing and singing; and we have her sampler, a testament to this young girl’s patience and skill.


[1] Westminster Archives, Standing Orders for St Clement Danes 2691/3/1; Account Books 2691/1/1 and 2691/1/2.

[2] Peter Maplestone, St Clement Danes School 300 Years of History (London: Trustees of the St Clement Danes Educational Foundation, 2000).

[3] Maplestone,  St Clement Danes School , p. 13.

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One response to “Beginning Research on School Samplers”

  1. Rebecca Scott says :

    Hi my name is Becky Scott did you see the sampler worked at St Clement Danes we published in my book Samplers published by Shires also the charity samplers In our catalogue of charity samplers (Witney Antiques)

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University of Cambridge Museums

Archive of projects, events and news from 2012 to May 2017

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