A sample of Victorian School life

In a recent conversation, I was discussing how many traditional skills have been lost over the years. Even in my own lifetime I can think of skills that have declined if not actually disappeared. Things like woodwork, cooking and knitting are no longer everyday skills, and many of the everyday talents of a Victorian Schoolchild would just astound the modern child. Take for example, handwriting. Many modern children can’t write legibly, can’t spell, and make elementary grammatical mistakes. You don’t need to look hard to find words like tomato’s, do’nt, could of done, and even grammer. But even more, the beautiful copperplate handwriting of Victorian and Edwardian times has been replaced with an illegible scrawl. No doubt part of the reason is that computers are a component of everyday life, and spell and grammar checkers take away the need to learn, but the real issue  is that children are not taught these basic skills in school.

Sampler from Strangers' Hall, Norwich, Norfolk, England,

Sampler from Strangers’ Hall, Norwich, Norfolk, England

I am sure I will take up the subject of writing skills in future posts, but what I really want to mention here is the Victorian sampler. For those who are not informed, a sampler is a piece of needlework, so called because it demonstrates the stitching skills of the creator. It was not uncommon for samplers to include pictures and text, and these are highly sought after and valuable. As a typical male, I can’t tackle more than basic sewing, but then neither would Victorian boys or men. The Victorian lady, would be another story, because from an early age they would have been taught to sew, and by the age of ten or eleven they would produce a sampler of a quality that would defeat most modern needlewomen. Actually I have never seen a modern sampler, I wonder if anyone still makes them, I would be interested to know. But the Victorian sampler is an amazing demonstration of  needle skills and dexterity.

I suppose that in the modern world there is no need to produce a sampler, but what a proud achievement it must have been for the Victorian child. I can’t help but regret its passing.

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Published in: on April 17, 2009 at 12:32 am  Comments (9)  
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9 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. hey
    im a moden girl, but im really into the whole edwardian/ victorian life style.
    My mother has insisted that i learnt the basics of sewing (both by hand and machine!)
    I am starting to peice together a sampler- though at 16 it is a bit to late!

    • I don’t think it is too late. It is true that in Victorian and Edwardian times girls would have been learning needlework from a very young age, so they would have produced a sampler at around ten or eleven, but I know from visitors’ comments that there are many who have taken things up later in life, as a hobby, or craft activity. The beauty and value of a sampler is that it is a demonstration of skill, and that seems to me to be relevant at any age.

  2. Whilst originally a sampler would have included items such as the name of the person doing the embroidery and the date it was completed they can still make good family heirlooms. With the increased interest in family history they are an ideal item to pass on to later generations. We have two samplers worked by my mother in law which commemorate the birth of each of our children. They include the child’s date of birth, weight and length at birth along with samples of the different embroidery stitches that are usually found in a sampler. It is a long lasting way to mark special occasions and make very acceptable gifts.

  3. Oh I haven’t done a sampler yet, but I do embroider, cross-stitch, knit and crochet. My grandmother taught me these skills, which I consider to be valuable. Not many know how to do these crafts; instead broken wrist watches are taken and made into curtains — that’s more valuable now.

    Alas, I’m rather bit old-fashioned for my generation.My change , she’s seven, protests when I try to teach her manners (Please and thank you, ask for permission, don’t chew with the mouth open and so on) and she simply balks at this!

    Your work sounds very interesting!

    • You sound very talented at craft activities, so I’m sure you could do a sampler. My mother did one for each of her grandchildren, which made a very nice keepsake.
      Teaching children old ways of courtesy and manners is quite hard, but they learn much by example, so it is not a lost cause. I notice that modern children coming to our Victorian School visibly improve after a morning of the old fashioned strict teaching. They go away better behaved and I have had several comment that they like the more strict routine.

  4. i’m making a scarf by crochet and i’m only 11

    • Good for you. I think it is great when people make things, and so much better than massed produced stuff bought in the shops. Most Victorian children would have been able to make things for themselves, in a lot of cases because they had to. But I still think there is a great sense of satisfaction when you complete something of your own making.

  5. i love the things they use to do to the disscusting children

  6. I stitched a sampler for each of my children’s births – including time of day, birthweight, weather that day, nursery rhyme pictures, blue/pink babygro, the child’s full name…
    It was a pleasure to sew while resting prior to their births, and when they were born I just added the extra information.
    Is there anywhere here to upload the photos?
    Great site – thank you!


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