Monday, March 12, 2012

Ellie Sampler 1878

This last month I inherited a precious object - my great-great grandmother's schoolgirl sampler. I still feel so thrilled to have something so wonderful. I have loved embroidery for as long as I can remember, and have long looked forward to the day I could save my pennies, and get my own antique sampler - and now I have one infinitely more valuable, because it it's been passed dawn through my own family.

When I brought it home in February, I heard a bell ringing in my head - I knew I had seen something like it before. So I began researching online. Sure enough, I found images of samplers so similar there had to be a connection. The style of sampler is that of an orphanage in Bristol - a story that is quite well known...that of the Muller Homes, Ashley Down. This orphanage now has a charity based on the beliefs of it's founder - George Muller, a man who believed strongly in the power of prayer. Online, I found a number of samplers done by schoolgirls at this institution - and they had all the same elements, the same alphabets, motifs, even similar layouts...but each one varied in their own way.

I contacted the Charitable foundation, and I also began doing some family history research. I found a little mystery. There was no record of my grandmother at the orphanage. Meanwhile, I found census records before and after the sampler was made - and my great-great grandmother was with her family, even though her father died when she was ten. Also, the family did not live near Bristol at all - but in Scarborough. A funny twist however was that her father was buried in Bristol when he died. Was this the connection I was looking for? Some more reseach and family connections helped me learn that her father was a ship's captain and his home port was Bristol. The family was taken care of financially - her mother had an annuity of some kind, and they were able to stay together. Not only that, but they had servants - so her circumstances certainly would not have led to her being placed in an orphanage. I wondered how could she have done such a similar sampler without haveing been at the school. As it so happens, the Muller Homes frequently sought positions for their graduates in service. Perhaps someone who worked for them had been at the Muller homes?

My next step will be to send the names of the servants listed in the census records to the Muller Foundation, and see if one of them might have been there. I realize the chances would be slim - perhaps Ellie's father brought back something from Bristol - patterns or another sampler for her to learn from. I may not ever find out exactly - but I am so thrilled to have it no matter what. Her work was so fine. I will be sending it in to have it restored soon (it needs a little attention), and then I will have it reframed. The photo above shows it after I gently removed it from the frame in which it hung in my grandmother's house. I can't wait to hang it up in my home after it has been conserved.

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