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Searching for Sarah

Sarah Ann Quartermain's Sampler of the Foundling Museum, made in 1826

​Sarah Ann Quartermain's sampler of the Foundling Museum, completed in 1826. © The Foundling Museum

​Gillian Clark and Janette Bright

In March 2010 the Foundling Museum bid successfully at auction for a sampler completed in March 1826 by Sarah Ann Quartermain who was ten years old at the time. Nothing was known of the sampler by the museum before it appeared in the sale and no one has since come forward to claim the little girl as a member of their family. There is no evidence that she was a Foundling. A wish to know more about Sarah Ann and her background, to identify her from the very small amount of information available, and to understand her sampler, was the beginning of a long piece of detective work.

The sampler

Sarah’s work is headed ‘The Foundling Hospital 1763’. It shows very accurately the building as it was in that year with the chapel in the centre, the boys’ and girls’ wings on either side, the porticos and other smaller buildings in front and the main gate in the foreground. The roadway in front of the buildings is filled by two coaches and horses and four standing figures. At the front, outside the walls, in Guilford Street, is a family of four with two pets. Sarah’s name, age and the date of her work are set in panels or ‘cartouches’. The whole image is surrounded with a pattern of strawberries and leaves. It is worked entirely in cross stitch with silk threads on a linen ground.

Sarah Ann Quartermain sampler, detail of coach and coachmen

​Detail of coach and coachmen.  © The Foundling Museum.

The vehicles that Boitard illustrated in 1763 (see image below, left), and which Sarah Ann made the focus of her picture in 1826, were post-chaises. Each is pulled by two horses and each carries a man at the front and at the back, but the little girl who created the sampler has added individual differences that surely came from her own observation and experience. She placed the footman on the coach nearer to the gate on a seat, but shows the other one as travelling in a standing position and she has added three different hat styles between the four of them. Sarah wanted to show that there are two horses to each carriage and so she made sure that both sets of harness and every one of the eight legs could be seen. 

Sarah Ann Quartermain sampler, detail of first name.

​Sarah Ann’s first name with one of the hearts below and to the right of it.  © The Foundling Museum.

​Sarah Ann has given to each of her post chaises a Dalmatian. These dogs were originally bred to run with horses pulling commercial loads, but they were also adopted by private owners to run between the wheels of the carriage as a status symbol as well as for security. There are no dalmatians in the 1763 Boitard engraving so these two dogs are from Sarah’s own 1826 observation and experience. Sarah Ann’s last additions are two hearts, one on each side of the approach road, and again these may be traditional sampler symbols of love or marriage.

She has stitched four distinct standing figures, again with a variety of hats, but has left no clue about what they represent. The well-dressed family group at the bottom of the sampler owes something perhaps to Boitard’s onlookers: a man with a hat and a silver-topped cane, a dog, a child, an older girl or perhaps a woman, another child and finally a cat.


Foundling Hospital, 1763.

​A perspective view of the Foundling Hospital 1763 [© Coram] by LP Boitard and engraved by Nathaniel Parr appeared in a magazine called the Universal Museum in the 1760s.

​Searching for Sarah

The search began, using all available national family history sources, to find a child born in 1815 or 1816 who was given the name Sarah Ann Quartermain. There was one child only who met these criteria and her baptism entry in the parish register gave very little more information to work on. A girl called Sarah Ann was baptised at St Andrew, Holborn (near the Foundling Hospital) on 24 December 1815, with parents named as James and Mary Quartman. The entry in the parish register gave James’ occupation as smith and the family address as Saffron Hill, a road that runs between Hatton Garden and Farringdon Road.

Searching on the name ‘Quartman’ lead nowhere and so the surname was treated as if it had been a mis-recording or mis-hearing of Quarterman or Quartermain. The search for a Quartermain family active between 1800 and 1850 that might have been Sarah Ann’s extended without success to all the accessible sources of records: The National Archives, London Metropolitan Archives, the Society of Genealogists, the Guild of One-Name Studies, archives and local studies libraries, published Quartermain family histories, The Times On-line, The London Gazette web site; family history websites and their lists of members’ interests.

Since the surname is an Oxfordshire and north Berkshire one, an extensive search of local sources was made. It was in the Oxford Local Studies Library that a clue was found. In a volume that listed all the apprenticeship bonds made in the City of Oxford was an entry for a James Quartermain, son of Thomas Quartermain, wheelwright, of Cowley, who was placed in 1797 as apprentice to Thomas Earle, whitesmith and clockmaker of Oxford, and who was made free in 1806. So here was a James in Oxfordshire, with a father in the transport business, qualifying in a trade in 1806 that James in London was using in 1815. This was a connection worth exploring.

A family for Sarah?

Parish registers showed that Thomas, the wheelwright, was in his second marriage in 1797. He had married at Iffley, a parish close to Cowley, to Ann Walters eldest of the four children of Daniel and Margaret Walters. She was 30, he was 49. Thomas’s four children by his first wife were by then adult. Thomas and Ann had one child only, James, who was baptised privately in 1781 and brought to the congregation at Cowley two months later.

As in all family searches it is births, marriages and deaths that provide evidence. In 1806, the year his son was established in his trade as smith, Thomas made and signed his will and in 1814 he died, leaving his entire estate, including an investment in the Bank of England, to his wife Ann. Three years later, in 1817, Ann drew up her will, appointing wealthy businessmen from Oxford (one who later became mayor of the city) as witness and executor.  In 1820 she died, leaving money to her son-in-law and her married daughters-in-law [her step children] and to daughter-in-law Mary Quartermain [wife of her son], and the residue to her son James. Most interesting of all in the present search, she also left a bequest to ‘my grand daughter now living’.

Looking at the evidence

So there are some matches between the couple with a child baptised Sarah Ann in Holborn in 1815 and the pair that appear in Ann Quartermain’s will. The parents are James and Mary in both cases, the father follows the trade of smith and each had a small daughter when the will was written in 1817. The search rests here. One can say though that a little girl who sewed a sampler in 1826 provides, by that piece of work, an indication of her family status. She had been taught embroidery by her mother or governess or perhaps in a school. She lived in a household where there was money to spare. She had leisure time to sew. Ann Quartermain’s grand daughter would have had that freedom.

So what happened to the child who created the sampler of the Foundling Hospital in 1826? Once again it is a there is a surprising lack of evidence. There is no sign of her in national and local documentary sources after that date. Neither the IGI, the 1841 census or the post 1837 registrations of births, marriages or deaths has any entry that matches with certainty with either Sarah Ann or indeed with a James or Mary. 

A good detective story should have a twist in the tale and a surprise ending, and perhaps you, the reader, can supply it. If you recognise any of the people in this mystery, if you have another solution to it or information to add, or if you know the sampler sewn nearly two hundred years ago by Sarah Ann Quartermain, age 10 in 1826, please come forward and tell what you know.

Gillian Clark and Janette Bright are volunteers who have been working on the records of the Foundling Hospital for some years. Since Janette’s interest is in textiles and Gillian’s in the history of childhood, they say that this particular piece of work was a positive pleasure for both of them. They have recently completed a guide to the tokens on display at the museum (An Introduction to the Tokens at the Foundling Museum, by Janette Bright & Gillian Clark).

24 October 2012
Last Modified:
07 September 2018