Sunday 12 July 2009

Martha Smith's Ackworth School Ciphering Book from 1784

Martha's book of 1784 is the only surviving from the early period of Ackworth, but what a treasure it is. It shows the education of a girl just 5 years after the founding of the school. It was the custom in England at the time of the opening of Ackworth School, that girls would be taught to read, but not necessarily to write. What need, after all, did girls have to write? So, it was a special departure that at Ackworth - though this was intended as a school for children of parents 'not in affluence' - that girls were not only taught to write, but to cipher - that is, to perform arithmetic. This first extract from Martha's book demonstrates her education in account keeping. You will notice that the script she uses is not the Italic script of the text samplers, but is a cursive copperplate which together with these account layouts can be found in book of templates created by George Bickham. It is amusing that the buyers' names Martha has used, are all girls she would know, and some of whom would have accompanied her on her long journey to Ackworth from the south of England. It is surprisingly child-centred learning. Now look at this page of multiplication. Look at the lovely calligraphic decoration running down the centre of the page. Look at the numbers. What do you see that is different/special? I am going to let you look at this for yourself for a little while and we'll return to it tomorrow.


  1. I can't imagine the feelings it must bring up to be able to see and touch those treasures. I think it must be like to be transported in time to those days and imagine one of those girls coming at any time into the room!

    Thank you so much, Jacqueline, for allowing us to dream along.

  2. Wow! She was able to do double digit multiplication without doing each column then adding the two! What an amazing education these girls received. Thank you for sharing this it's a fascinating glimpse into the past..Nancy D. in NY

  3. I absolutely love the history you are sharing with us.

  4. What a joy to see such beautiful calligraphy. Isn't it a shame that we have lost the time & will to write that way?
    My Grandfather was educated at 'Friends Academy' Oyster Bay, Long Island, New York USA & his penmenship was this lovey all his life.

    Thank you Jacqueline for sharing such treasures with us.
    Pam R.

  5. Nancy, maybe the girls used rough books where they put down their calculations, and what we see here is the neat copy of their work....