Mary Ann Berry,

Bristol Orphanage, Bristol, England, 1887

sampler size: 12½" x 11¼" • framed size: 16" x 14½" • sold

There exists a group of very well documented samplers worked in the Muller Orphanage Houses of Bristol, England from the 1860s through the early 20th century. Large numbers of orphans were housed and educated there, many spent much of their childhood in this institution. The education that they received was geared to provide skills that would ultimately help the orphans gain employment, thus needlework of the highest quality was central to the curriculum for females. 

The samplers worked at this school are highly recognizable and renowned for their great precision and minute detail. The City of Bristol Museum owns several of these samplers and a 1983 catalogue that accompanied an exhibition of their samplers notes that the Bristol Orphanage samplers were “invariably worked in red … and are distinguished by the regimented rows of alphabets and small border patterns.” Other hallmarks of these samplers are depictions of many tiny pictorial motifs that can include the Bible, animals, houses, baskets of flowers, and ships. The composition is always ordered and balanced, although of course, some samplermakers showed greater talents than others in both composition and execution.

Our samplermaker, Mary Ann Berry, lived in the Orphanage from age 4 until age 17. She was born on January 14, 1873, to Henry and Jane Berry of Atherstone in Warwick County. Jane died in 1874 in childbirth and Henry died of Meningitis in 1877. In August of 1877, Mary Ann and her older sister Betsey were “delivered into Mr. Muller’s hands by their uncle, John Berry,” according to records in the archives of the Muller Foundation. The 1881 British Census shows her at age 8, a “scholar” living in Ashley Down, one of the houses of the Bristol Orphanage.  

Mary Ann worked this fine and classic sampler there in 1887, with her initials appearing along with the date. She repeated her initials and worked those of her sister, “BB” as line end elements in the upper right corner and after the final set of numbers. Many other initials, likely those of fellow orphans, are on the sampler as well.

On March 7, 1890, Mary Ann left the Orphanage to take a position as a servant to a Mr. Bergin of Clifton. The 1891 census indicates that he was a minister with a large household of those working in the field of medical missions. 

The sampler is in excellent condition. It has been conservation mounted and is in a figured maple frame. 


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