Wednesday, 28 May 2014

SOLD Margaret Fleming Wemyss School 27 June 1799 * Sampler For Sale * £350 €500 $750 Including Shipping

I bought this sampler unframed and unconserved some years ago, thinking it was a pretty Scottish sampler and that its charming Holbein-stitched alphabets and other motifs would make a nice charted pattern someday. Then I got caught up publishing some books and the sampler was put on one side and virtually forgotten about. And since I am retiring, the charting is not going to happen now.
I had noticed the maker's name when I bought it - Margaret Fleming - and that endeared the sampler to me greatly, since I have special Fleming friends by name and by nationality - and yes, I was thinking of Betty Fleming and Erica in Belgium. But also at the back of my mind I was pondering the origin of those Holbein stitched alphabets, so typical of Scottish and Netherlandish samplers and wondering if the name Fleming was a clue. In fact, the Fleming family has an early history in Scotland, dating back to the reign of David I who in 1124 to impose law and order in his kingdom introduced feudalism and granted land to Flemish knights in return for their military service. He appointed Baldwin Le Fleming of Biggar as Sheriff of Lanarkshire. The arms of Baldwin Le Fleming bear the double tressure flory-counterflory in their heraldry, which links Scottish nobility with Flemings from Gavere near Ghent. The Flemings also married into the Wemyss family.
What I didn't see at first, because it is less distinct, was the name of the school on the sampler - Wemyss School. I know yesterday we talked about the Wemyss Needlework School which was established in 1877 with the aim of teaching collier's daughters, but this sampler predates the founding of that school by almost 80 years. Wemyss is the name of the place which derives from the Gaelic word for cave uaimh. Along the coast and beneath the imposing Castle of Wemyss are many such caves which have revealed ancient Pictish carvings. Wemyss is also the name of the ruling family who still live in the castle and the Flemings married into the family in the 1600s. Because of the fine style and stitching of this sampler, I suspect it was probably made in a school, not for colliers daughters, but for the gentlewomen of the Wemyss family in the castle school - which is probably the small building shown.
As you can see above, Margaret dated her sampler June 27 1799. And it was from this date that I hazarded her age at between 10 and 15 and so was able to trace her. Margaret was born on 19 July 1788 in Wemyss and was baptized on 28 July 1788. In the records her parent are given as Thomas Fleming and Janet Todd.
And this is born out by the first line of initials. In fact it would appear that Thomas married twice and on both occasions the initial of his wife was J. Looking a little further down the sampler we can see the initials of Margaret's grandparents. On her father's side, IF married IC (remembering the I is likely to stand for a J) and on her mother's side AT (Todd) married MC.  It is possible that both surname initial Cs are for Campbell.
So now the sampler has been expertly conserved, mounted and framed. The linen was originally a coffee cream colour but has darkened no doubt thanks to the famous coal fires of Wemyss. But having said that, there was not much darkening of threads from what could be seen on the reverse, just some fading to the paler pinks. White threads are still pretty much white and the rose red and pale blues are bright. There is a watermark around one motif where someone less than expert has made a cleaning trial which you can see in the lower right hand corner - however, this does show that the original colour of the sampler was not far off what you can see now. The size of the sampler is 12.5" x 15" (31cm x 37cm).

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