Thursday 3 December 2009

A World within a World during World War I - Elisabethville * Beamish Museum Samplers Now On Line

Martine kindly let me know that the Beamish Museum has now put its sampler collection on line. Click here to see. If the link does not take you directly to the samplers, click on Search the Collections on the left hand tool bar and then type Sampler in the search box.
Here is an example from the collection. At face value one might consider this sampler to be undistinguished. To be honest would you dwell for long on this sampler in a collection, or would you move on with little comment to the next exhibit with its house and park and flower pots? At the best one might take time to praise its tidyness and clarity. But for a sampler found in England it is decidedly unEnglish....

Now look at this, worked by the same girl, are you not just a little intrigued by Elisabethville? Might you not be tempted to take a note of the name and Google it? Go on, then, do it now. Now what do you find? Goodness me! A community of Belgian families in a specially constructed township of wooden houses known as 'The Huts' near Birtley. Where? Birtley lies between Gateshead and Durham in the North-East of England. Elisabethville, so called after the Queen of the Belgians, was a self-regulating town with its own police and was home to some 4,000 displaced Belgians during World War I who contributed towards the war effort by working in munitions production. The Belgian town also had its own school run by Ursulines, and here the children learnt to make these samplers. The school survived until the early 70's, but memories of the Belgians faded and just recently an exhibition was staged to remind the people of Birtley of the Belgian twin town on the doorstep. So, to return to the samplers, they are very special indeed, what might on the surface appear an undistinguished sampler, is a document of historic importance and a key to lives lived and not always forgotten.


  1. Thanks Jacqueline for an interesting post. I was familiar with some of the quilts in the Beamish collection but not the samplers so it fun to see them.

  2. Quite honestly Jaqueline, no, I wouldn`t have moved past this one quickly. The first reason being I love simple marking samplers. They have a graphic appeal that sometimes gets lost on a more complex sampler. And then I saw the name Elizabethville, and I was instantly curious...I didn`t want to take the time to Google and raced ahead to read your explanation. Now I will go Google and read more details...Thank you for sharing this with us! You always have something here to remind me why I love samplers...

  3. I am so pleased you wouldn't have rushed past this sampler. There is a wonderful item on Google, in French, which has street maps of Elisabethville and shows the position of the school. If you are not a French reader, you might try Bing or another web translator.

  4. I have found a wonderful site with many pictures of Elisabethville...a map, and pics of children and the school, as well as many

  5. That's fascinating! I just live a few miles up the road and I never knew Elizabethville ever existed. It makes you wonder what else we miss on our own doorsteps.