Keighley is a town in West Yorkshire, England, just northwest of Leeds, and the origin of this interesting and appealing sampler. It was made by eleven-year-old Mary Rushworth, and she commemorated an important society that had been recently established there, the name of which was the Mutual Instruction in Mechanics, Experimental Philosophy and Mathematics. It was established in 1825 by four men, as part of the early 19th mutual improvement society movement in England. According to Mabel P. Tylecote, author of the Mechanics’ Institutes of Lancashire and Yorkshire Before 1851 (University of Manchester Press, 1957), it was “founded by people in humble circumstances for the immediate benefit of themselves and their friends.” Importantly a lending library was part of this institution. One of the four founders was an architect and artist, John Bradley (1781-1844), who was close to the Brontë family, and Brontë memoirs include mention of their use of the Keighley Mechanics Institution Library. A plaque, hung on the outside of this building in 1955, stated, “To this building when it was a Mechanics’ Institute the Brontë family came each week from Haworth to borrow books: 1835-1855.”
The society erected and opened a new building in Skipton Road in 1834 and this precise building, with its double doors, broken arch pediment and other specific details, was depicted by Mary Rushworth on her sampler. She likely attended the local National School which had a close relationship with the Mechanics’ Institution, as evidenced in an 1834 newspaper article. The 1841 census recorded the family of James and Sarah Rushworth and their eight children, including Mary, age 14. While we can’t be certain, we assume that this Mary was our samplermaker.
The sampler was worked in wool on linen and is in excellent condition. It has been conservation mounted and is in a 19th century veneer frame.