Frances Wildin, “St. Ann’s Cross”,

Frances Wildin, “St. Ann’s Cross”,

Bream in the Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire, England, circa 1857

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sampler size: 24¼” x 30¾” • framed size: 30¾” x 37¼” • sold

A wonderfully large and fabulously solidly-stitched needlework picture, this was made by Frances Wildin, who proudly stitched that she was age 53. Four brick cottages with checkerboard roofs providing perches for many birds interspersed with chimney tops fill the space across the top of the scene. These row houses sit atop an outstanding, animated tableau with enormous folk appeal, featuring two military figures and many naive animals. They are all set in a landscape made up of both organic and stylized flowers and trees, a visual treat. Mrs. Wildin was a skilled stitcher but also possessed the talent of a folk artist, as her composition attests. She and her husband, Thomas Wildin, lived in the cottage next door to the those that she depicted, and opposite the historic site known as St. Ann’s Cross, which is named as part of her inscription. This specific place name was documented in an 1788 publication and appears to have been the site of an actual cross in some more ancient days.

The two striking military figures are wearing unusual uniforms that may have been those worn by the private army maintained by the Duke of Beaufort, a local landowner who served in a variety of positions including Warden of the Forest of Dean earlier in the 19th century. It’s also possible that these uniformed soldiers were part of the imaginary scene created by Mrs. Wildin.  

An excellent four-sided border of a great assortment of flowers and plants, again fully worked, provides the perfect visual framework for this piece. There are many characteristics, including this border, that echo the specific elements and composition of samplers from the early 19th century and it is highly likely that Frances first learned her needleworking skills while making a sampler in school. How fortunate that she continued to use her talents later in her life. 

Frances was born in 1804, as Frances James, the daughter of John and Elizabeth James of nearby Redbrook. In 1825, she married Thomas Wildin, an iron miner, and they lived in the village of Bream with their children. Church tithe records indicate their specific dwelling as the cottage next to these four. Frances died in 1877, at age 73. 

A highly researched article about this specific sampler was written in 1999 and published in a periodical local to the Forest of Dean. It documents all of the above information plus more and includes a drawing of the 1840 church tithe map and a photo of the gravestones of France and Thomas from the Bream churchyard. We are grateful to the Forest of Dean Local History Society for this very interesting information, which, of course, will remain with the sampler. 

Worked in wool on linen, this is in excellent condition. It has been conservation mounted and is in a beveled and painted frame. 

 

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