Late 19th century sampler from the New Orphan Houses in Bristol – £1850 at Wotton Auction Rooms.

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The New Orphan Houses in the Ashley Down district in the north of Bristol were once the largest orphanage in the UK. Built between 1849-70 by the Prussian evangelist George Müller (1805-98), the five houses held 2050 children at any one time. Some 17,000 passed through the doors before the buildings were sold to Bristol City Council in 1958.

Skill with a needle was a key part of an education that also included scripture, arithmetic, grammar, history, geography, Swedish drill and singing.

The fabric samplers stitched by the girls closely followed a set pattern: all have shared alphabets, motifs, and are worked in red thread on cream linen. Kept as keepsakes, they were also useful when showing potential employers their abilities.

This example offered on July 21 now joins eight other Ashley Down Orphanage samplers listed in’s price guide database. The prices paid for these range from £1000-3400.

Back to school


Bristol school sampler by an unknown hand – £1200 at East Bristol Auctions.

Bristol school samplers of this period are quite distinctive. Another example, sewn in faded black thread with lines of the alphabet and motifs of a bible and a ship, appeared for sale at East Bristol Auctions (18% buyer’s premium) on August 6.

It had no name or abode (sometimes these were removed later in life as their owners sought to disguise their upbringing). Again, the hammer price was a multiple of the estimate at £1200.