Finding Elizabeth

Antique samplers combine our love of needlework and history and one of the first things we do when spotting a sampler is to run the stitcher’s name through Google and Ancestry. So many of these girls died young, often in childbirth, but there are a few that through clues left in their sampler tell a fascinating story and take you on a journey through a family’s history.

When we first started to research Elizabeth Furniss we found that we did not have enough information to say with certainty that we had the “right” girl. There are several girls with varying spellings of her name in the period we were looking at.


Through an exchange of information this weekend on a Facebook group and a posting of a photograph of Ann Wright’s sampler we were able to find the right “Elizabeth”.


As you can see on Ann’s sampler the apple tree, the figures of Adam and Eve and the pastoral scene are almost identical to Elizabeth’s.


Ann’s sampler tells us that she was born in 1836 and that she stitched her sampler at Darnall School. The school was in the Township of Attercliffe cum Darnall in Sheffield, Yorkshire, England.

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The 1841 census shows an “Ann Wright” of the right age (-/+ 1 year) living in Lead Mill Row Sheffield, just over a mile away from Darnall School. Focusing on this area I found an “Elizabeth Furniss” of the correct age living less than 1 mile away in 3 Shude Hill.

I was confident that we had found our stitcher but there were further leads to follow through. A few weeks ago I stumbled across another sampler, stitched by Eliza Powell, that shared many of the same motifs with Elizabeth’s sampler.


Eliza’s sampler tells us that she was born in 1813 (-/+ 1 year). This was a very popular name in the period but now being able to focus on Sheffield an “Eliza” of the right age was found on the 1841 census.


Eliza lived in Ellens Yard, off Arundel Street which is less that 1 mile from Elizabeth in Shude Hill and even closer to Ann in Lead Mill Row.


The Grammar School that appeared in her sampler can be found close by. It had only just been built, maybe that is why she included it in her sampler. The school was for boys.

There is another similar sampler to be considered in our research, Sarah Ann Downend.


The sampler has been reproduced by The Scarlet Letter. Image from The Scarlet Letter Year Gallery

The sampler has no clues to age or area but searching through Sheffield birth records a girl of this name was christened in 1815 in the Cathedral which is a stone’s throw from Shude Hill

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There was one further sampler to investigate. Esther Charleton has two houses and Adam & Eve figures that are very similar to those in Elizabeth’s sampler. There is also a pastoral scene where one of the sheep appears to be identical.


The sampler has been reproduced by The Scarlet Letter. Image from The Scarlet Letter Year Gallery

Esther’s sampler told us her age and a search quickly showed that she was also christened in the Cathedral.

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We now had five girls who lived within 1 square mile of each other. Based on this I think it reasonable to say that the girls shared the same needlework teacher and all probably attended Darnall School (assuming that the teacher taught in the same school between 1816 and 1844). Elizabeth, Eliza and Ann were not christened in the Cathedral so I do not believe that they attended the same Sunday School.

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Key: A – Darnall School, B – Shude Hill (Elizabeth Furniss), C – Lead Mill Row (Ann Wright), D – The Cathedral (Esther Charleton & Sarah Ann Downend), E – Arundel Street(Eliza Powell).


Through a trade directory I have managed to find several school mistresses who taught in the area and I plan to research the names.

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If you know of any further samplers that share characteristics with Elizabeth Furniss or have any knowledge about Darnall School, please let us know.

Here are some samplers found in Sheffield Museum’s collection. Images copyright Sheffield Museum

1966_813 J1948_2 J1948_3

Note the same mis-spelling of “canvassJ1956_75 SH546


Since publishing this post I have received photographs from readers of other Sheffield samplers and have started a PINTEREST board. If you know of any other samplers that have similar motifs please will you pass them onto us so that we may add them to our database.



Shude Hill passing under Commercial Street Bridge.

Elizabeth lived in the block of houses to the left.


Marsh Brothers, Steel Manufacturers, Pond Works, Shude Lane

Marsh Brothers, Steel Manufacturers, Pond Works, Shude Lane.

Elizabeth’s home would have looked out onto Soho Mills and Pond Works.

Lead Mill also known Marriott Wheel when used as a cutlers grinding wheel in the 1700s, River Sheaf

Lead Mill and the River Sheaf.

Traffic sign for the A61 at the junction of Paternoster Row and Leadmill Road, premises of Arthur Davy and Sons, Provision Merchants, in background

The junction of Paternoster Row and Leadmill.

Was “The Towers”  the inspiration for Elizabeth, Sarah and Esther’s house, note the trees.


The Cathedral in Sheffield.


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