Saturday 13 June 2009

The Ackworth Squirrel

Many of you ask about the significance of the Ackworth School sampler motifs. Let's start with the squirrel which, like Marion from Austria, you may already have completed. The squirrel is found on very early samplers, as far back as the 1640s, and is not unique to Ackworth School. In the early 1600s the squirrel was represented in emblem books with the Latin motto Latet Abdita meaning: It remains hidden. One assumes that what was hidden was the meat within the nut which the squirrel was trying to crack. By extension, the meaning came to signify something like our, no gain without pain. Reading books for children were scarce when Ackworth opened its doors to the first scholars in 1779. Eventually this book was settled upon for reading exercises. Entitled The Rational Dame (for Dame read Junior Schoolmistess) by Lady Eleanor Fenn, published in 1795, the book was described as Hints toward supplying prattle (childlike conversation) for children. The book is full of lively animal illustrations and descriptions of their characteristics. Here you can see the same squirrel which the Ackworth girls would have seen. It is described as : neat, lively, active and provident...never leaving its food to chance.

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