Marie Hartley and Ella Pontefract, from frontispiece to ‘Yorkshire Heritage’ (1950). With dogs Hardy and Chris.


or “How The New Edition of This Book Beloved By Knitters, Came About….”

Today I thought I’d give an insight into how we put together the new edition of “The Old Hand-Knitters of the Dales”, that classic, much-loved book on the history of Yorkshire knitting…

Ella Pontefract and Marie Hartley produced six books together, mainly for London publishers J. M Dent & Sons; Ella as writer and Marie as illustrator.

Marie had trained as a wood engraver at the prestigious Slade art school. Ella was a folklorist. In the 1930s, the women went on a walking tour of the Dales and soon returned; living in a caravan, whilst they documented the changing way of life of the Dalespeople.

Marie later said:

“It was an open book, to us – and no-one else was writing it.”

In 1941, the women bought a tumbledown cottage in Askrigg. Their 1942 book, ‘Yorkshire Cottage’, documented its restoration. Ella and Marie brought out a new book every 18 months – 2 years. Ella’s writing style was haunting, beautiful, elegaic. We have no way of knowing how different ‘The Old Hand-Knitters’ might have been, had she lived to write it. Ella died unexpectedly in 1945 of chronic high blood pressure. The years that followed were to be Marie’s longest gap without publishing a book. Marie probably had to convince her publishers that she too, could write. Almost all her subsequent books would be co-written with Joan Ingilby. They worked together, at opposite ends of the same room, and wrote seamlessly.

‘The Old Hand-Knitters’ was commissioned around 1947 by Harry J Scott, legendary editor of ‘Dalesman’ magazine and friend of Marie. It was to be her first collaboration with Joan. The women were to write over 30 books on Yorkshire history and lore, together. They received the Yorkshire Archaeological Society’s Silver Medal in 1993 and the MBE in 1997.

‘The Old Hand-Knitters’ was originally meant to be 12,000 words but was 27,000 when the women posted it to Scott, in 1948. It then languished on Scott’s desk til finally seeing the light of day in 1951.  Post-War paper shortages were cited as the reason the book wasn’t published immediately. It was to be reprinted many times, and became one of Dalesman’s best loved titles.  Also one of the books most loved by knitters the world over. Many might be surprised to learn neither of the women were knitters.

Years ago, almost the only in print source about the history of knitting, was the Bishop of Leicester, Richard Rutt’s ‘The History of Hand-Knitting’.  (Batsford, 1987). Like many knitters of my generation, I loved this book and was intrigued by mention of a book about the history of Yorkshire hand-knitting, ‘The Old Hand-Knitters of the Dales’ by Marie Hartley and Joan Ingilby.  It was in the days before the internet, so my only chance of finding it was to scour secondhand bookshops.

Even in Hay-On-Wye, ‘the town of books’, where I scored many a then-obscure (in the UK) Elizabeth Zimmermann book, I failed to find Misses Hartley and Ingilby’s book. Years went by. Every bookshop I ever went in, I looked for The Book. It took on a special significance; became my personal Holy Grail. Forever out of reach.

Then on a day trip to Haworth and the Yorkshire Moors… I struck lucky. I found The Book. It had been reprinted by Dalesman. And was in the Tourist Information Centre.

I still have that edition and it is probably my most well-read,  most dog eared book.  Pages fell out, I read it to pieces.  It could have been terrible, for all I knew, all those years I searched high and low for it. But it was brilliant.

Several years ago, I wrote to the current editor of Dalesman and discovered they had no plans to re-print it. And alongside Shannon Okey at Cooperative Press,  I contacted the lovely Yorkshire lady who currently holds the copyright and got permission to go ahead with a new edition.

We wanted to make it available to a whole new audience, but also make an edition that would contain something new and be worth buying for those folk like me, who over the years got one or two different editions. The text is a re-print of the classic First Edition.

I wrote a Foreword because I was aware of the incredible reputation of Miss H & Miss I as Yorkshire historians (they both were awarded the MBE in 1997  for their work preserving Yorkshire lore and history, and worked on a prolific 40 plus books).  ‘Old Hand-Knitters’ is maybe their most loved book. But the people who love it, many are unaware of the writers’ record as social historians, and I wanted to put it back where it belonged,  in the broader context of the county’s history. I was also aware many knitters would love to know more about the women. I wanted to put them in context – Yorkshire greats like their friend,  J.B.Priestley.

Marie's 1948 wood engraving of George Walton glove

Marie’s 1948 wood engraving of George Walton glove

We also added an extra Appendix of our own – with the background pattern and charts for the oldest extant dated Dales gloves, the George Walton gloves. I travelled to various places researching for the book.

At York Reference Library, I found back issues of Dalesman, with numerous interviews with the ladies,  over decades.

I also visited the Yorkshire Archaeological Society (Misses H & I received their Silver Medal in 1993, and the women deposited all their extant notes, including a sparse few for ‘The Old Hand-Knitters’, at their archive in Leeds. I made several trips to the Dales Countryside Museum in Hawes. Marie’s personal collection of agricultural implements, knitting sticks etc was the foundation of their collection.

One day in the  Dales Countryside archive, I was sitting opposite a gentleman who had an accordion. I was concentrating hard, documenting a Dales glove. Every now and then, he’d play a few bars of a long lost Yorkshire folk song; he was finding music notation. The music was so haunting and beautiful and so I couldn’t help striking up a conversation with him about his research. It turned out he was also one of the founders of the museum and had been the women’s neighbour for years. He gave me a brilliant insight into their work.I couldn’t help wondering what were the odds of bumping into their next door neighbour, whilst researching their lives – quite a few miles away from where they had lived.

Another odyssey we went on in our quest to find Miss Hartley and Miss Ingilby, was a trip up to the Wordsworth Trust’s Dove Cottage, in Grasmere, Cumbria. What started as a casual enquiry about a pair of gloves Marie had sketched around 1947 or 8, turned into a valued friendship with the wonderful curator there, who let me examine the George Walton gloves and somehow this led to us making 1800 period costume, and spending a weekend knitting and spinning at Dove Cottage.

The G. Walton glove Marie illustrated.

The G. Walton glove Marie illustrated. Courtesy: The Wordsworth Trust

I documented the George Walton glove – not one of the later Mary Allen gloves, but an earlier and much more subtle and complex design. The left glove and right had variations. We enlisted the help of designers and glove experts Tom van Deijnen, tomofholland.com , and “Corvid” to work out the intricacies of the design I had documented, and between the three of us, we came up with a pattern for the gloves.

I could never have imagined, in the 1980s, when I started looking for an OOP copy of the book, one day I would be involved with its resurrection. Nor that, travelling across Yorkshire and Cumbria to put this edition together, I would make friends and acquaintances along the way.

‘The Old Hand-Knitters of the Dales’ is available here. (Digital and hard copies).

And the George Walton pattern is also available as a download, via Amazon. Details on Ravelry page, here.

I will put up details of where hard copies can be got in the UK, when I have that info for yous.

Knitting needles from Marie's collection, now at the Dales Countryside Museum, Hawes. Image credit: Belinda May.

Knitting needles from Marie’s collection, now at the Dales Countryside Museum, Hawes. Image credit: Belinda May.

WW1 Ancestors

I’m always compelled by genealogy when it put stories and faces to names. And it being 100 years since WWI, I wanted to write something in memory of my two great-uncles who died in that War. One of them was the reason I got into genealogy in the first place. I was going to keep it simple and just post photos, maybe names and dates. But that seemed inadequate in the year that’s the hundredth anniversary of the start of WW1.

If you follow this, there are tips on how to trace your WWI relatives. As a lasting tribute to my own family’s lost loved ones might be someone else being able to find out about their’s.

William Boothman was my grandmother’s older brother. William was born in Leeds, oldest son to my great grandparents, Tom Boothman and Annie nee Hemingway, in 1897. He first appears on the 1901 Census, at 70 Bayswater Row, in the Potternewton district of Leeds. William (always called ‘Willie’ by the family) lived with his father, Tom, a 33 year old Milk Dealer born in Coulton (North Riding), and Annie, also 33, born in Hensall (East Riding). Like the vast majority of 1890s’ Loiners, they had come to the city from outside. William’s older sister, Nellie was 6 and born in Leeds. The first Leeds-born Boothman!

Tip: Check out your ancestors’ birthplaces on Genuki. It’s a free site and has great info about the places your family originated. Sometimes, it even has things like transcriptions of 19thC Trade Directories where you may find your ancestors but if not, will get a sense of place.

Software like ‘Family Tree Maker’ will take you to your ancestors’ addresses via Google Earth. It’s surprising how often houses still stand, over one hundred years on.. .

I find Census Returns using Ancestry.co.ukFindMyPast is another useful site. I stick with Ancestry as it has a broader spectrum of records and I find transcriptions to be accurate, on the whole. FindMyPast used to be easier than Ancestry to search just addresses and there are times when that can be really handy. But you can do that on Ancestry easily enough, now. Tip for using the Census on whichever site – I always have a good look at neighbours and neighbouring streets, as you can tell a lot about the context your ancestors lived in, from the neighbourhood.

Tom Boothman was later to have a couple of houses built, one of which became my grandparents’ home, and he also owned a fair bit of property – including the small terrace of stone cottages off Roman Avenue in Shadwell, where my dad was born. He also owned a large, Victorian house at the top of Roman Avenue which he rented to my other great grandad!  But 1901 was before he had built his business and we had not previously been aware they had lived at Bayswater Row. It was a working class street – neighbours were bricklayers, fitters, decorators and machinists. Most of the street were classed as “Worker” although several were listed as “Own Account” (ie: self-employed), one of which was Tom.

Only two households on this page of the Census had servants – Tom and Annie had a 16 year old Pontefract girl, Kathleen Brent as “Servant – Domestic”. By looking at the others on the street, and the context of a Census, you can learn a lot more about your ancestor, than just the bald facts. Years later, my grandparents – Tom and Annie’s youngest daughter and her husband, my grandad – were to take over the business. And I remember dad saying that grandma worked very hard in the business and she too, usually had a servant. This would not so much be in a ‘Downton Abbey’ kind of way but just a girl to do the everyday cooking and cleaning, to free up the woman of the family to actually work in the business. Even though ‘occupation’ was often left blank next to the names of tradesmen’s wives on Censuses, the reality was they worked. My grandmother – and presumably Annie before her – made cheese and butter for the dairy. Later, she learned to drive so she could help with deliveries.It always intrigues me how women’s lives are sometimes submerged in the  Censuses – occupations left blank; work unacknowledged.

One note of caution re. Censuses – Tom Boothman gave himself a new and different birth place for every census he is listed on (as did his parents before him – seems to be a tradition). As his father was a carrier, travelling between Lancashire and Yorkshire, Tom’s siblings were born in different places so looking at their birthplaces on Censuses gave me no clues, either. People did pull the wool over the Enumerator’s eyes and were self-reporting. 1901 is the last census that was filled in by the Enumerator, not the general populace.

Ancestry are digitising more and more parish records and it is always worth looking for your relative’s birth, marriages and death also. I was unable to find a baptism for William Boothman. But I knew Tom and Annie married in a Methodist church,

Nellie (left) and Lillie, post WW1

Nellie (left) and Lillie, post WW1

and Non-Conformist records are a bit patchier, in terms of what was kept and what has survived to be digitised or transcribed. Ancestry does have Non-Conformist records and if you can’t find your ancestor in the Church of England parish records, they are always worth a look. Another resource for Births, Marriages and Deaths is Free BMD which a quick Google can pull up. Ancestry also has FreeBMD. There is a William Boothman born in the last quarter of 1897, Vol 9b page 570. And he was born in Leeds.  That may well be my great uncle. Especially as when I run a Census search – he is the only William Boothman I can find in Leeds, born in 1897…  An example of how you can use one record to verify or shed light on, another. To be sure, I would have to send off for William’s birth certificate. It is a terrifying thought, to look at the pages of boys born around 1897 and realise how many of them must have ended up dead in France or Belgium, within twenty years or so of their birth. An entire generation of young men in Europe were obliterated. My grandfather was lucky to survive WWI and said that when he returned to Leeds, he was, quite literally the only young man of his age for streets around. And those streets had been densely populated, with back-to-back houses. I don’t know how typical my dad’s family were but of the three teenagers who went to War, only one returned.

William (standing) with Nellie (seated), my grandma Lillie and Leslie. Leeds, probably around 1915

Like so many men killed in WW1, William is only to be found on the 1901 and 1911 Censuses.

1911 found him living with the complete family; older sister Nellie, born 1895; my grandmother Lillie – born 1902 – and the youngest child of the family, Leslie, born 1908.  1911 is the first census that records the number  children born to a family,  who had died. Tom wrote “1” in that column. That’s a birth certificate we may have to search for as my dad had no idea his mother lost a sibling in infancy.

This time, Tom gave his ever-moveable birthplace as ‘Harding’. Tom filled in this return for himself (1911 is the first place you can find your ancestor’s signature; bottom right). This is the closest he gets to accuracy. He was born in a village called Arden, near Helmsley. ‘Harding’ may well be his own rendering of it as Yorkshire dialect often adds an ‘h’ in front of an initial ‘A’! Their address was now 116 Bankside Street; the house in Harehills Tom had built, moving his dairy business closer to the city centre, although they still continued to be supplied by milk from his father’s farm, near Roundhay Park. Had he lived, Willie would have taken over the family business. The result of a generation of young men being slaughtered was a change in the fortune of some women. Much is written about the changing role of women post WW2 but WW1 had an effect, too.  My grandmother was eventually to inherit the dairy and 116 Bankside St.

In 1911, William would have been 13 and probably about to start working in the business. Tom Boothman was well off by this time; but an ‘education’ would have been out of the question. Another William – my grandad – was eventually to run and then own, Boothman’s Dairy – and he was an unusually intelligent boy who won a scholarship to the best school in Leeds. His father refused to let him go – he’d have a family business to run, one day. What use was an ability to parse Latin verbs? My grandad, like Willie Boothman, also ran away aged only 14, to join the Army. His first action was as a bugle boy. On the First Day of the Somme. Underage for conscription, William ran away repeatedly to join the Army. Whenever he was brought home, he’d take off again.  I have the draft of a letter Tom wrote, to his regimental H.Q, demanding that William was sent home.  (I thought I had scanned this, but it appears not!) Conscription was at age 18 which meant Willie would not be able to join the Army legally until  late 1915. The fact he ran off more than once in the year before, shows how determined he was. It is the only piece of correspondence I have ever found, from any member of my family. Letters are a rare resource for the family historian – as they got sent. And often, read and then used as kindling.

116 Bankside St. Willie Boothman lived here 20 years before this picture was taken.

Ancestry will yield you a variety of Military records and probably has the best coverage for the genealogist. I found William Boothman on the ‘UK, WW1 Service Medal and Award Rolls’ – these record the ‘Tom, Dick and Harry’ medals everyone got. This gives his rank (Gunner), Regt (Royal Artillery) and Regimental Number (107649 – this would have been on his dog tag). Sometimes, to this day, dog tags are found with bodies. More often than not, they aren’t as ground was fought and re-fought over; blown up time and time again; sometimes behind enemy lines, sometimes not. In other words, even bodies in the ground were blown to smithereens. The record also tells me that he was previously a Gunner in the Royal Field Artillery with the same service number.  My dad remembered anecdotally that Willie had run away to join the Army and been recalled for being underage on more than one occasion. It is thought that he was always a Gunner – we know he was in the X Battery of the trench mortars , a group of men called ‘the Suicide Squad’ as their chance of surviving even one action was almost zero. And he survived years. This was a dangerous battery to belong to, as trench mortars were loathed by both sides, and became prime targets.

William Boothman – spot the cigarette!

I’m lucky to have more than one photo of William. In the first it looks like he is a young 18, so allowed to join up officially. I take it this time was ‘legal’ as his brother and sisters appear in the photo with him. My grandma, the younger sister, was closest to him in the family. In the first picture, he looks pretty well a child. The second photo, he looks cynical, tough, middle aged. He’d be about 21.  You can see the cigarette jammed behind his ear. This second photo has been edged with an oval of wonky pin-pricks – presumably done by Willie himself, when he was bored in the trenches. Maybe he intended to tear it at the perforations. When they went over the top, men often handed their photos and other personal possessions, in for safe keeping. If they died, the belongings were sent home and cash might be divided between surviving friends. Not that William ‘went over the top’ the day he died, as it appears the Germans took the British by surprise that morning. But the story in the family was this photo was taken off his body. It is entirely possible as there is a big smear of something that looks like blood on it. It is one of my most treasured possessions. It came to my grandma, presumably, as the sibling closest to him. I can’t imagine how she must have felt every time she looked at it. There are no anecdotes about comrades coming to Bankside St with stories about what happened to William – but then, it’s entirely possible the entire Battery were wiped out as the artillery bombardment was so relentless, the day William died. RFA also had recruits from all over the UK, unlike the Pals Battalions, where they all came from the same few streets. William survived several years in  X Battery, before dying on 27th May, 1918. This was the first day of the Third Battle of the Aisne. That morning the Germans carried out a massive bombardment followed by a drop of poison gas. It looks likely most British casualties’ bodies ended up behind enemy lines which may explain why Willie’s body was never found. Around 127,000 men in Allied forces lost their lives over that week and 130,000 Germans.  29,000 of the Allied dead were British. Gunner William Boothman is commemorated on the memorial at Soissons Cathedral.

Reverse of William’s photo. Probably not his writing. An officer’s or friend’s?

Once you pull up one War record, Ancestry has a link to search for your ancestor across all WW1 records. The British Army Service (enlistment) Records had a link to a William Boothman from Leeds who enlisted but that turned out to be Willie’s uncle as his address was the Homestead Farm – our family farm at Roundhay, Leeds. The record is heavily charred (a lot of Army records were destroyed in the Blitz – looks like Willie’s uncle’s record survived; his didn’t). Be aware if you’re researching for the first time, there are gaps in the record for this reason. William’s name does appear in the ‘UK Soldiers Killed in The Great War’ list. If you know little about your ancestor, this may be useful as it gives the usual regiment/regimental number info but also Place of Birth. And Enlistment Place. This often varies as men – especially those joining underage – often went to a different town where nobody knew them,  to enlist. William enlisted in Leeds but of course, this might just be his final and legal enlistment…

The reason I got into genealogy was my great uncle, Norris Charles Lister. He was my grandad’s brother. Again, I don’t know how statistically typical it was, but each of my paternal grandparents lost a brother.


Emily and John Lister with Billie (left) and Norris. Probably 1916.

Norris was born in Leeds. On the 1901 Census he lives at 4 Bath Rd, Holbeck, Leeds with his wife, Emily (nee Stephenson) and sons Norris (1897) and Willie (1899). Willie was known as ‘Billie’ later on. He was my grandad. All four were born in Leeds. John was a Printer’s Machine Ruler, and a ‘Worker’ (employee). I only recently got this photo, and it was taken in bad light on my iPad so very blurry, but shows John, Emily, Norris (on the right)  and Billie. I suspect this may be Billie’s ‘joining up’ photo, as his uniform looks pristine – Norris’s doesn’t. They were in different regiments, so Billie may have joined up when Norris was on leave. Norris already had two stripes – their younger brother, Uncle Jack, once told us that he had been offered a commission not long before he died. He turned it down as he wanted to stay with his comrades. As the War progressed, and more and more of the ruling classes died – and young commissioned officers were famous for being easily picked off by snipers – working class men were more likely to be commissioned. Again, as oldest son of the family, had Norris lived he would have had the family business.

Despite John Lister’s fancy appearance in the photo, he was also a businessman. He had a small printing firm. Seeing WW1 on the horizon, it is said he bought up Leeds’ paper stocks then sold it back to other printers at an extortionate price. This was actually an imprisonable offence. John Lister brought his kids up to be strong and resourceful.  My grandad used to say his dad taught them to swim by chucking them in the deep end of the Leeds Olympic pool. John started life as a mechanic (as the 1901 Census shows) but suddenly, mysteriously, “had money”. His entire life, he told people his name was not Lister but he had randomly chosen that name aged 19. He said he was an orphan, dumped at an orphanage then brought up and later adopted by a family called Gillespie. My grandfather, Emily and his four brothers believed this their entire life. They knew his ‘foster sister’, Florrie Gillespie who backed him up in the story. In fact, the 1901 Census puts him on Bath Rd, Holbeck.

His mother, daughter of a Huddersfield mill-owner, Hannah Smith had married Tom Lister, a cropper at a wool mill, and John was a late child they had when middle aged. When John was a toddler, Tom Lister died. The widowed Hannah remarried a Birmingham born blacksmith, Charles Dealey. This is where it gets interesting.

On the 1901 Census, whilst John Lister is living with his two oldest sons and wife on Bath Road. Also on the 1901 Census, the mother he always claimed never existed – is living with her second husband at Bath Villa, on Bath Rd… We had always wondered why Norris’s middle name was Charles, when there were no Charles’s in the family… John called his firstborn son after his stepfather. Despite claiming he had no family.

Billie, just after WW1

Billie, just after WW1

My great grandmother Emily was adamant that she believed John’s story about being a foundling was true – so much so she went to a solicitor in the 1920s, to check she was legally married as Lister might not be John’s real name. In the 1911 Census, John and Emily were still at 4, Bath Rd. John mis-spelled Norris’s name as “Norriss”. John described himself as a “Bookbinding Paper Ruler and Manufacturing Station” [sic], and as an “Employer”. We know over the years his print shop was located at one point on Kirkgate, opposite Leeds Market (same road as the old Leeds Cloth Hall). Another time it was on Bond Square. Norris lived with my grandad, Billie, and also his brother Jack, and twins Clifford and Mary who were under one month old on Census night. John and Emily were to have one more son; Jeffrey.  Mary died aged ten. An obit published in the local papers mentioned Norris worked for his father’s business. Norris is listed in the WW1 Service Medal & Award Rolls. He was in the 1st 5th Battalion of the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry. He is listed as Killed in Action on 9th October, 1917 and his name also appears in ‘All UK Soldiers Died in the Great War”.

Great-Uncle Norris.

In the 1980s, we visited the last surviving brother, Uncle Jack and he told us some really interesting things. Apparently, they were so close in age, Norris and my grandad, Billie, were like twins. When Norris joined up, Billie thought if he joined up too they’d at least be together. Only grandad found himself in the West Yorkshires and Norris was in the KOYLIs.

Like William Boothman, my grandad was underage when he ran away to War. He was 15.  Uncle Jack said his two older brothers were both very musical and played the viola. In later life my grandfather played the piano – he only had to hear a piece once and could play it note perfect, from memory. At the start of the War he was a bugle boy.

Jack also told us that when Norris came home on leave in 1917 – just a few weeks before he died – he was so yellow from the mustard gas that the family insisted on taking him to St James’ Hospital in Leeds. The worthies at ‘Jimmy’s’ took one look at him and accused him of ‘swinging the lead’ – trying to get a ‘Blighty wound’ – Jack said poor Norris was mortified as he was devoted to his men and determined to go back and had been forced by the family to go to hospital.

September 1917, fresh from the sensitive and caring medics of St James’, it is thought he passed through Etaples camp. Around the week of the infamous mutiny. (The British Army’s only known mutiny during WW1). It is thought that the Army could effectively ‘bury’ the events at Etaples, by making sure the men who witnessed it were at Passchendaele. (When Gove made his offensive remarks trying to do a bit of revisionism vis a vis ‘lions led by donkeys’, I was particularly disgusted. I’d imagine his ancestors were the bloated officers safely behind the lines).  Either way, Norris had told his family back in Leeds he was turning down the offered commission to stay with ‘his men’. And he was to die with them at the Battle of Poelcapelle.

After the War, my great grandmother, Emily was visited by some of Norris’s surviving comrades. They told her the story comrades often told grieving mothers: that Norris had died trying to pull a friend off the barbed wire in No Man’s Land. My dad used to say he was told about this many times (presumably by Emily herself) but once he was a soldier himself, in World War II, he could no longer believe it.  Norris’s body was never found, and after the War the War Graves Commission told the family Norris had been commemorated on the Tyne Cot memorial. The family believed them. Well, you would. No-one had the money to go to Flanders, anyway.

Uncle Jack said that his mother left the kitchen light on at night, for the rest of her life – in case Norris was ‘missing in action’ and came home one day. She wanted the house to be welcoming. I think, as long as that light was burning, she felt her hope was alive. Like many loved ones of men killed in WW1 whose bodies were never identified, she must have felt that to accept that he was dead was a bit like writing him off.  Emily’s expression in the photo with her two soldier sons, is hauntingly sad. I can’t even imagine how she coped with Billie still being at War, or how Billie first heard his much loved brother was dead – presumably whilst he was still in a trench himself.

By 1917, grandad would have been 18 years old and had gone straight back to the Front the moment he could. Essentially my grandad had been soldiering three years, on and off, in the Front Line, when he was underage.

In the 1980s, I got interested in finding out more about my uncles who died in World War 1, and so the odyssey into genealogy began. As we researched Norris, it became apparent that his name was not on Tyne Cot Memorial (we found a transcription of the memorial at Birmingham Reference Library). We contacted the War Graves Commission and they put that right. For a while, his was the last name on the Memorial. More have come to light since.

A KOYLI officer’s log we read told us that he died along with his men – all of them, probably not long after the KOYLIs went over the top, that day. There probably were no surviving direct witnesses to come home and tell Emily about his heroic death on the wire as the men under his immediate care, as a Corporal, died alongside him. (Telling mothers their son was sniped was probably perceived as an act of kindness). I have no reason to doubt Jack’s memory of his mother being visited by comrades. They may have been survivors from his battalion; many of the KOYLIs  were from Leeds, after all. If not a Pals’ Battalion, exactly. Of the missing KOYLIs who died at Passchendaele, Norris was the only one omitted from the memorial. And the only one who it seems passed through Etaples. Which always struck me as suggestive.

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission website has a useful ‘Find War Dead’ data base you can search and from which you can download a certificate of commemoration for your relative.

Having Norris added to the Addenda Panel of the Tyne Cot memorial was my first achievement as a genealogist. We were pleased to go and visit Uncle Jack and tell him the news. He was very grateful. But it must also have been upsetting, knowing his parents and the entire family had gone to their graves believing he had been commemorated at Tyne Cot. In the 1990s, my dad went to Tyne Cot and discovered that Norris did have a grave – but was one of six ‘Unknown Soldiers’ – all six found together in a collapsed fox-hole, probably in 1921 when the War Graves Commission started sorting things out. They were known to be Norris and his comrades, but there was no way of knowing which man was which. The others’ names all appeared on the memorial. Dad was taken to the six graves known to be the KOYLIs who died that day. One day I hope to go there, too.

I always had a soft spot for Norris because, in the photos I have, he looks so much like my dad. Dad was born 9 years after Norris died and looked more like him than he looked like his dad.  I also found my grandad, the lone survivor of his generation who went to War, on the Ancestry WW1 Medal and Award Rolls. Which told me that at the end of the War, he was still a Private. He must have become a Corporal in the Territorial Army between the Wars as he was a Sergeant in WW2. The same record tells me he entered the Reserves in 1919. As did almost all his colleagues from the Leeds Rifles who are listed on the same page. I have grandad’s original dog tags. In the Medal Rolls, he had the usual ‘Tom, Dick and Harry’ medals. But the Leeds Rifles had the rare honour of winning the Croix de Guerre and wore its insignia afterwards

Only surviving wedding photo Lillie and Billie, Leeds, 1925

Billie, my grandad, survived the War and married my grandmother, Lillie Boothman, in 1925.  He often said he had the pick of all the women in Leeds and could choose the most beautiful – because he was the only young man his age for streets around. My grandad eventually ran Boothman’s Dairy which in the 1930s became Lister’s Dairy. Dad said his father would have preferred to be a printer, but after the War, his doctor said the outdoor life of being a dairyman would be healthier for him.

My grandad, Billie, in WW2

On the day WW2 broke out, my grandad – who was in the Territorial Army and now a sergeant in the West Yorkshires – went to War a second time. His unit was in the Blitz doing fire watch, apparently then later amongst the first British troops to get to Belsen. (The West Yorkshires now a Leeds-based anti aircraft battalion of the Royal Artillery). So long as he lived, my grandfather refused ever to speak about what he saw in Belsen. He was a chain smoker – ever since the trenches. He died of lung cancer in 1971 so WW1 did kind of get him in the end.  I was a child in the 60s, and many of my school friends also had grandads who were WW1 veterans. We felt we grew up with it. Grandad once incurred mum’s wrath by teaching us the words to various ‘soldier songs’… Towards the end, Billie came home to die at our house, my parents looking after him as he literally stood up and walked out of hospital, refusing to die there. Right at the end he went into a coma, but it looked more like a prolonged nightmare – not the peaceful thing you’d imagine a coma to be. I was only nine but I was convinced my grandad was back in the trenches, in his mind. Or maybe – worse still – Belsen. When my dad returned from the War in 1947, now an experienced paratrooper himself, his dad didn’t talk about it with him.  It is rather incredible to think of this ordinary Leeds dairyman being at the First Day of the Somme, the Blitz and the Liberation of Belsen. But he was.

By Tijl Vercaemer from Gent, Flanders, Belgium. “In Flanders Fields the poppies blow”, via Wikimedia Commons


Sherburn-in-Elmet All Saints church in the background. ‘The Teasel Field’, 1814.


Today I’m re-visiting the subject of a recent blog post.

Killingbeck, Leeds gent George Walker (1781-1856), toured Yorkshire in 1813-14, recording the clothing of the ordinary man and woman for his book, ‘Costume of Yorkshire’.

Plate XXIII showed a teasel field, and was sketched/painted in the village where I grew up.  Many of Walker’s illustrations had inaccurate details in the background; a market cross where thee never was one; churches with spries that should have had towers, etc. But he has got the Sherburn church and topography right. The teasel field workers were gathering the teasels into a makeshift hut, to dry them out before they’d be taken along the road to Leeds, 14 1/2 miles away (the road became the old A1; the major route between England and Scotland).

Yesterday, driving through the village we found a neglected patch of field, containing many teasels.  Bad phone camera picture but you can see the church in the background, and it is a similar orientation to Walker’s picture but slightly more distant from the church. Probably one or two fields along and further out of the village. (Click to enlarge).

Sherburn-in-Elmet, teasels growing wild, 201 years after 'The Teasel Field'.

Sherburn-in-Elmet, teasels growing wild, 201 years after ‘The Teasel Field’.

It’s amazing to think these teasels may be descendents of those grown in this area in Napoleonic times…

Incidentally, Walker doesn’t exaggerate the steepness of the hill behind the church. It looks less dramatic in my photo due to the distance and angle, but Walker got it right. The precise field where he sketched is an acre or two higher than where I stood with the camera, today.

My only relative in the village around Napoleonic times was the village saddler, James Roodhouse. His sister was my great X 5 grandmother, Hannah Cleveland nee Roodhouse.

View of wild teasels, looking across field towards Little Woods.

View of Finkle Hill wild teasels, looking across field towards Little Woods.

The old saddlery was just next to the crossroads, at the start of Moor Lane; a five minute walk from where this picture was taken. Sherburn is built on a crossroads with the four main roads being Kirkgate, Moor Lane, Finkle Hill and Low St.  I grew up on a lane just off Kirkgate, (pronounced the Yorkshire way, ‘Kerr-gate’), but this picture was taken up Finkle Hill, just out of the village.

This second photo shows the teasels in the field, looking not up towards the church but across to Little Wood. Just to give a sense of how many there are!  Apologies for the poor photo quality – I was using a phone camera and facing into the sun, so I couldn’t even see what I was shooting at the time!

It remains to be seen if these teasels are feasibly the kind used in the Leeds wool trade. According to Wikipedia:

The genus [dipsacus] includes about 15 species of tall herbaceous biennial plants (rarely short-lived perennial plants) growing to 1–2.5 metres (3.3–8.2 ft) tall.

But how to figure out what sort of teasels these are?  Also according to Wikipedia:

The Fuller’s Teasel (the cultivar group Dipsacus fullonum Sativus Group; syn. D. sativus) was formerly widely used in textile processing, providing a natural comb for cleaning, aligning and raising the nap on fabrics, particularly wool.[7] It differs from the wild type in having stouter, somewhat recurved spines on the seed heads


Different teasels illustrated below. With its recurved spines, it looks likely the Sherburn teasel is dipsacus fullonum. (AKA “common teasel” or “fuller’s teasel”).

Walker wrote:


The Teasel, or Dipsacus sativus, is a plant much cultivated in the east part of the West Riding, though from the impoverishing nature of the crop, which requires two years to bring it to maturity, it is seldom approved by the proprietor of the soil. It is however an article of essential importance to the Clothier, who uses the crooked awns of the heads of this plant for raising the nap on the cloth. In the autumn of the second year the heads of the plant are cut off, carefully dried, and after being fixed upon long sticks, are conveyed away for sale. Temporary sheds are usually erected in the teasel fields for the work-people employed, who not unfrequently for very interesting groups.

The question is: are these dipsacus fullonum  garden escapes from 20thC flower arrangers, or escapes from the cultivars grown in these fields two hundred years ago?  It is not close to any houses (open fields all round) – so I suspect the latter – also as you can see, just the sheer number growing in the bit of fallow field, suggests they’re not a casual garden escape. Dipsacus grows easily from seed and would come back every year on an undisturbed bit of land; even if the land was cultivated for daces they might survive then re-invade from the verges (and this field borders the road so will always have had a verge). Walker called them ‘sativus’, but there seems to have always been some confusion around the nomenclature.

The specific name ‘fullonum’ and the common name ‘Fuller’s teasel’ both imply that this species was used in fulling, the process of shrinking and thickening the cloth after weaving (Ryder, 1993). Clapham et al. (1962) used the name D. fullonum ssp. sativus instead of D. sativus for the plant with stiff recurved spines that was long used in the textile industry.


http://www.cabi.org/isc/datasheet/119605  describes some confusion over the nomenclature.

At the time Walker was writing, fullonum was seen as a sub-species of sativus.

By the time Walker was writing, teasels were used to raise the nap on cloth manually, as well as attached to machinery. Teasels were sometimes mounted on a cylinder used to dress cloth, called a gig mill. Although in Walker’s illustration of croppers, the teasels were mounted on small frames, used to raise the cloth by hand – which was commoner in Yorkshire and the likely fate of most of the teasels grown in Sherburn.  Lipson wrote:

… In the West Riding, where most kinds of machinery were introduced more easily than elsewhere… opposition was even more protracted than in the West Country. At the end of the eighteenth century the gig mill, although not unknown in Yorkshire, was still very exceptional, and the majority of cloths were dressed by hand on account of the hostility of the men… [A] Yorkshire manufacturer, Hirst, who wrote an account of his career as a clothier, declares that as late as 1810, ‘if a Yorkshire manufacturer went into a market with one from the West of England, and they both had a piece of cloth manufactured from the same wool, the latter would get a better price by nearly one-half.’ the West Country having machinery for finishing cloth with Yorkshire employers dared not introduce…’… When Hirst himself introduced gig mills, the journeymen croppers complained bitterly: ‘Their bitterness against me was so great at that time that I had to keep ten armed men every night to guard my premises. I never ventured out at night; and even when I went out at daytime, I always had a brace of loaded pistols in my pocket.’….

The History of the English Woollen and Worsted Industries, E. Lipson, 1921, 189-190

Who’d have imagined the common teasel could be so… political?

Below  are images of dipsacus sativus, fullonum, and one of the seed-heads from the Sherburn teasels. Are these survivors descendents from the Napoleonic era crop? Could that even be possible?  I suspect today I was only a couple of fields down from where Walker stood with his sketch book or easel in 1813. And there is a corner of that field that is forever West Riding  wool industry.

Dipsacus sativus – spines not recurved.



Sherburn teasel, November, 2014

Sherburn teasel, November, 2014. Recurved spines

Plate from ‘British Entomology VI’, John Curtis showing Dipsacus fullonum, 1829

Spinzilla2014collageOn impulse, I entered this year’s Spinzilla competition. Mainly because I’ve spent some time this year figuring out the sheer amounts spun in a day or a week by late 18th/19thC handspinners, and wanted to see if I could equal them; or even if the figures I’d arrived at were feasible. Also because I like putting my money where my mouth is. I know I can spin fairly fast but it was interesting to see how fast.

Because I hadn’t planned to enter, ahead of time, real life intervened. But that is good, right? Real life intervened for spinners since Clotho spun her first thread. Hand-spinners always had to spin between stirring the pot, feeding the kids (and hens!), sweeping the floor, going to the shops.

I entered as a Rogue Spinner (not in a team – what a maverick!) And came second. In the end I spun 13,704 yards in seven days. That comes to, on average, over a mile a day. I was pipped at the post by Jane Sheetz with a respectable 13,747 yards. I think I’m happy to take second place for the UK and Yorkshire! Within the teams there were spinners who got higher individual mileages still – several spinners topping 30,000 yards. I am fairly confident that if I enter next year I can top 20,000 yards. But am happy with coming second in the Rogues, which isn’t too shabby for a first attempt with no real ‘training’, forethought and too little preparation! In fact I hadn’t touched the spinning wheel since summer, when I had to spin an entire gansey in a matter of days. So no run-ups or training as such at all!

Spinzilla’s second year, and this was its first year with international entries. I entered at the last minute,  with only three days to deadline, and one of those days I knew I would have to spend preparing rolags for our living history day at Armley Mills; another day would be lost to being at the Mills. Which left me a grand total of one day to make rolags and prepare for Spinzilla! Foolhardy? Me?

IMAG0273(1)Why rolags, you ask? English longdraw is the fastest way I know how to spin. One day only gave me time enough to make just a pound of rolags from Lleyn fleece – I’d had a bin bag of this in my airing cupboard for a year, so time to get going! I had a few naturally dyed rolags left over from Armley Mills, too.  Spinzilla ran Monday – Sunday and needless to say, by Tuesday morning I’d run out of rolags. Which left me with a dilemma. I could spend half my spinning time making rolags or just spin worsted/semi-woollen or semi-worsted for the rest of the competition. I tried spinning worsted from commercially prepared tops, but when I measured the results quickly realised I wasn’t going to get the daily yardage needed to do well. So I ended up spending some of my spinning time drum carding or hand carding.  Next year, I’ll card for a few days before Spinzilla – so I can spin uninterrupted, either on the Great Wheel or the Chair Wheel.

Am fairly sure I can blow my own 2014 numbers out of the water with a fair wind behind me (and clearing the week of appointments beforehand! If I’d known I was entering I’d have re-scheduled a few things!) I lost one entire day of the competition, only being able to spin in the evening, and for a short while, due to an appointment that took up the entire day. In the end, I came only 43 yards short of the winner. Frustrating – as that 43 yards would have been more than made up had I prepared just one more day, beforehand, or say spun at midnight when the competition started (I went to bed and started the next day so missed my chance to get a couple of hours’ head start).  43 yards is very little spinning.

I’d assumed I stood no chance of winning, not having had much time to prepare, so it was kind of exciting to see how close I came to winning and at the same time, monumentally frustrating to realise if I’d just spun another half an hour I could have done it – let alone spun for part of all those hours during the week I lost to carding!

It was a brilliant learning curve though. It is easy to have opinions about ‘spinners of the past’ – without ever really testing out our assumptions. Spinning for a few hours a day felt relentless – imagine our ancestors’ lives of spinning, not just day in day out but year in, year out? By about Wednesday, I was waking up thinking “Oh joy – another few hours of spinning!”. Conversely, when I woke up on Monday and knew I didn’t have to spin at all, all day – I felt like spinning! And had to restrain myself.

Below is my yardage for each day. As you can see, on the best days (English longdraw with handcarded rolags) I was able to manage over 2 miles’ of spinning. On my worst two days, under one mile. Both of the slowest days were largely worsted spinning and with more interruption than spinning time. Whilst I can spin worsted in under a third of the time of a certain spinning blogger with much (self) vaunted speeds – I found worsted or even semi-worsted spinning to be painfully slow, compared to woollen. I am very tempted to do a fair bit on the Great Wheel next year and wearing a pedometer so we can test out Patricia Baines’ words: “… It is said that spinners who worked for the textile industry in Yorkshire and Lancashire walked the equivalent of 30 miles a week spinning wool…” [Baines, ‘Spinning Wheels, Spinners and Spinning’, Batsford, 1977, p. 61].

Yorkshire spinners of the past – like those in the great spinning traditions the world over – fitted in their spinning between other tasks; household chores, field-work, etc. When you see folk opining about ‘history’ and going on about ‘professional spinners’ – let’s not forget our hand-spinning ancestors spun in the home, not factories and were not ‘professionals’ in the sense we understand the term, now. Spinning would have been constantly interrupted; and the week of as-flat-out-as-you-can-get-it spinning of the average Spinzilla team or rogue spinner, would be the same as our spinning ancestors’ week. Hours and days where you are somewhere else, earning money, or taking care of the kids! I will alternate Great Wheel with Chair Wheel for Spinzilla 2015 – because I can!  I spun every inch of this yardage on a Timbertops Chair Wheel but my favourite Spinzilla team were an Andean group from the Bolivian Paza Cooperative who knocked out an impressive 66,071 yards of pushka (spindle) spun yarn, coming in third place in the international standings. Because that is some serious spindling!

Here are my daily totals, with some pics of the yarn produced over the week. Terminology is always kind of nebulous, so for purposes of clarity – when I say “semi-worsted” I mean however I spun it, it was worsted-prep. “Semi-woollen” means: however I spun it – usually a sort of bastardised longdraw, not true English longdraw – it was woollen prep or woollen-ish prep.

I lost hours of good spinning time to drum-carding on my elderly David Barnett drum-carder. And also to hand-carding on my even more elderly hand-cards. Next year I will do all my prep the week before, so I can just spin, spin, spin during Spinzilla and then get a more accurate idea of how much our ancestors could really spin – with a fair wind behind them and a modicum of real life interruptions.    

Day 1: 2356 yards (Lleyn).  Monday. This day was plain sailing, as it was the only day I had nothing but hand-carded rolags to spin. (The drum carded batts seen below I made later in the week). Although you can spin from the cloud, from punis made from torn-off bits of drum carded fibre wrapped round a pencil, or many other ways – a well made, hand-carded rolag remains the true English longdraw spinner’s weapon of choice.  Interweave’s ‘How To Card Wool’ video shows Norman Kennedy hand-carding – and my method is probably closest to his. A well carded rolag will spin itself. For living history I have to churn out a lot of rolags quickly, and then will admit to using not very well carded rolags. If, when you hold it up to the light you can see through it “like smoke” as Mr Kennedy says – you have the means of fast longdraw spinning right there.

Lleyn and cochineal-dyed Boreray Day 2

Lleyn and cochineal-dyed Boreray Day 2

Day 2: 2128 yards (Including Lleyn and Boreray). Tuesday. I say ‘including; as most days I spun more than my ‘main’ focuses – odds and ends too and I can’t remember which I did on which days, now! That red Boreray is doubly expensive as it is one of the rarest of all wools dyed with one of the dearest of natural dyes. What to do with it? Answers on a postcard. It’s bloody scratchy. This is the day we ran out of rolags. Yes. Day 2. Lesson 1 – make more rolags! So now I spent several hours a day when I could have been spinning, drum-carding or hard-carding wool.  Lesson 2 – Whitefaced Woodland does not enjoy being drum-carded on my Barnett drum-carder.  Nor does the grey Shetland fleece I got at Masham Sheep Fair this year. Damn.


Logwood dyed mystery wool

Day 3: 1560 yards (Including commercial tops of black Shetland).  Wednesday. This pictured here though was some logwood dyed deep stash fibre. Some sort of commercial medium shortwool tops. Logwood was bought by the tonne in 18thC and 19thC Leeds. So this is kind of local history. I think I started spinning the Whitefaced Woodland too. I love this wool. I won’t be drum-carding it again anytime soon. But it is gorgeous wool. Lost most of this entire day to Commitments Made Before I Knew I’d Be Spinning This Week. Now seriously bored of white wool, too.

Day 4: 2040 yards (Including Whitefaced Woodland, grey Shetland, mystery cochineal dyed wool). Thursday. Now I was desperately having to card, or spin semi-worsted or worsted. IMAG0337(1)

Day 5: 1896 yards (Including black Shetland worsted). Friday. Slowed down by the carding and an unidentified finger pain so I kept switching spinning techniques and fibres all day, to avoid RSI.


Shetland semi-worsted

Day 6: 1532 yards, (Including black and grey Shetland and silk from deep stash -Maybe 12 years old! Still spun fine!)  Saturday and again a day of heavy interruption. More Whitefaced Woodland, and some angora tops. Angora cost me some time but I fancied a change plus it was more old, deep stash and I wanted it gone. This week it is already half a pair of Lovikka mittens.

Silk from deep, deep stash

Silk from deep, deep stash

Day 7: 2192 yards – (Including random bobbin ends from previous days, more deep stash silk tops). Almost all my wool and silk ended up being plied – usually around midnight the first few days – into 2 ply yarns. When I had plied the very last thing, I still had time left, so I added all the remaining singles odds and ends together on the Lazy Kate and counted them in the final total too. IMAG0352

TOTAL:  13,704 yards of wool, silk and angora, almost all 2 ply. Wools spun: Lleyn, Whitefaced Woodland, grey Shetland, black Shetland and several unknown medium shortwools from dye experiments. IMAG0366 Next year… I’ll be back. And this time – armed with more rolags!



Teasles seen on a bit of wasteland, near Escrick, North Yorkshire, yesterday.

They were growing deep into a high ridge of brambles; too inaccessible for us to go and get a closer shot, but here are some teasles in the wild.

On Saturday, we were Luddites at Armley Mills, Leeds Industrial Museum, for the launch of Wool Week. We were in the weaver’s cottage, built in 1790. It was absolutely fantastic and we loved it so much, we hope to return very soon, to have a proper look round the site. And hopefully, drop off some copies of ‘The Old Hand-Knitters of the Dales’ in the museum shop. We spun on the Great Wheel, and had some fantastic conversations with members of the public – including one rather accomplished spinner who had a go for himself on the Great Wheel. People were especially taken by the repro Dales gloves we had on display and we had a lot of interest in ‘The Old Hand-Knitters of the Dales’ (which contains a pattern for the oldest extant dated Dales glove, the ‘G.Walker 1846′ glove kept by our old friends at the Wordsworth Trust, in Cumbria. All this made me think we should make a separate page here, for ‘The Old Hand-Knitters’. I will link to it, when it’s live.

Small spindle wheel at Armley Mills

Small spindle wheel at Armley Mills


We shared our weaver’s cottage space with an intriguing small Great Wheel; either one for someone seated, or possibly used for children in a spinning school, originally. And also a large, freestanding skein winder.


This week I have been mostly spinning yarn for Spinzilla.  I only decided to enter a couple of  days before the deadline, on impulse. And had to spend one of those days preparing rolags to spin at Armley and another day at the museum, so didn’t have time to spin many rolags for woollen English longdraw spinning. As a result, I ran out of rolags on the second day and spent yesterday worsted spinning, which is considerably slower.

IMAG0273(1)Over the summer, I was trying to figure out precisely how much spinning the 18thC handspinner could churn out in one week. I took the “I can spin the yarn for a gansey in 30 – 40 hours” as a challenge and managed to spin the yarn for a gansey in 12 hours. So I thought maybe my worsted spinning was not a lot slower than my woollen. It appears to be considerably slower.

Heard from the editor of a certain magazine that the photo shoot for said gansey went very well and it is looking good in the shots, and on the model. That was a relief as when you spend so long on one project, you’re too close to it to see it objectively and I wasn’t sure whether I’d pulled it off. There was less spinning in a gansey than I’d imagined, though. And when I recover, I will definitely spin another – the saving in £s alone justifies the work.

When it came to Spinzilla, either way I discovered I needed to card much more than just 1lb of fibre for a week long spinning session. Next year, I will enter Spinzilla after a week of carding! I haven’t figured out my entire yardage per day, yet but will break it down for yous next week. It would be fun to enter the challenge next time with the Great Wheel and a mountain of rolags. But this time I have been spinning on the Timbertops chair wheel.

I had some leftover rolags from Armley and did manage to hand-card 1lb of Lleyn.  The smallest of these 3 baskets contains logwood and cochineal dyed Boreray. That small basket is a large bike basket – the big green box full of Lleyn is MASSIVE! All spun in under two days though. Shows how relentless the carding must have been to supply one spinner.

I am off to spend some of my precious spinning time drum carding a bit more Lleyn. Then I will have to spin whatever I can find, semi-woollen (or semi-worsted, depending on how you look at it). Too slow to give me any chance of winning, but at least by the end of the week I should have some wool spun! Which is a good thing, as I came back from Masham Sheep Fair with three fleeces that unaccountably followed me home: a Manx Loghtan, a Whitefaced Woodland and a very beautiful grey Shetland… And I can’t start on them til I have cleared last year’s backlog of Lleyn and Boreray!

Progress so far on my Pinterest board.

Some of Day 2's spinning - Lleyn (white) and Boreray.

Some of Day 2’s spinning – Lleyn (white) and Boreray.








The Tazzle Man


The Teasel Field, Plate 23. Sherburn-in-Elmet

A few months ago, at a car-boot sale in York, I stumbled on a very battered and dirty volume of the Yorkshire Archaeological Journal. I maybe paid 50p for it, if that. The reason I picked it up was, I saw it contained an article called ‘The Yorkshire Teazle-Growing Trade’,  by R.A.McMillan.


Teazles are something you see here in Yorkshire in hedgerows. I know that some ‘wild’ plants are escapee cultivars from old textile industries.


R.A. McMillan illustrates the article with Walker’s “The Teasel Field” [156]. I have seen (without closely looking at) this picture a million times. And there was something astounding I missed about it. The picture was drawn two or three fields away from the house where I grew up and lived til my nineteenth birthday.

In the background, is my old village church and the churchyard where my grandparents and mum are buried.  I have looked at that picture so often – but never noticed. Too busy looking at the costumes! So right under my nose, all these years, was a book showing home. Things I wrote about in ‘A Pink Dog Lead’ happened just out of sight in Walker’s Teasel Field picture; the other side of that church! Walker famously conflated things in his illustrations and the cottages pictured there do not exist but are probably transposed from a point on the other side, and actually out of view. The house I grew up in was a farmhouse, in 1814, and may well have been no stranger to the teazles.

Some time ago a museum curator – who will remain nameless – mentioned to me that a very rare dye plant – I will not name –  had been found growing wild – somewhere I will not name –  in the West Riding. The last traces of a lost, medieval dye industry – still growing in the wild. As no-one wants it disturbed, it’s location remains A Secret.   Years ago, when we lived in the West Midlands, we knew the roadside verges and abandoned cottage gardens where we could find weld, every year. So this is no surprise to me, that our hedgerows and wild places sometimes have escapees that hint of a lost world.


I often find teazles in the hedgerow opposite my house, ten miles out of York. So have always been curious about them – but know very little.  I thought I’d share with you my gleanings from the Yorkshire Archaeological Journal.


Apparently, teazle growing was not very well documented, but it appears to have been a huge crop in Yorkshire – all three ridings. It was only introduced to the county some time in the 18thC as prior to that date it was commoner further South.

West Riding Croppers from ‘Costumes of Yorkshire’ (1814)


Teazles were used to finish woollen cloth; the teazles were mounted in frames and when a nap was raised, highly skilled croppers like my dad’s Huddersfield-born  ancestor, cropper Tom Lister, would crop the nap to finish woollen cloth.  In fact it was a new kind of cropping frame that set off the Luddite rebellion. Suddenly, several croppers could be replaced by one not entirely efficient machine.

People used to think that teazles were used to ‘tease’ wool prior to spinning, but this was probably simply confusing different processes as teazles were in fact used in cloth-finishing, not pre-spinning processes. Teazles probably only started to be grown locally in the 18thC as the Yorkshire textile industry ramped up its production of fine woollens and wanted to source some of the materials needed, closer to home.  You can see teazles mounted on frames for use in Walker’s illustration. He wrote:




“They previously wet the cloth thoroughly in a cistern of water, and comb the wool all one way with teazles, which are fixed for this purpose in a small wooden frame. Some of these are arranged on the floor….” [picture above].


According to McMillan:


“The place where teazles were first grown in Yorkshire was the village of Biggin, a few miles to the West of Selby…. By 1770… it had reached Stillingfleet”.


In the 1770s, my mum’s ancestors all farmed or were farm labourers in Stillingfleet, and neighbouring Wistow, Ryther and Cawood.  Ryther and Cawood are the next villages along from Biggin. If my dad’s ancestors in the West Riding wool trade used teazles to crop the cloth; mum’s ancestors near Selby may have grown teazles.

I sit writing this somewhere in Stillingfleet parish and could probably, if I walked out now, find wild teazles growing in the hedgerow yards from my door.

Apparently, the Vale of York’s heavy alluvial soil suited the crop. And the Vale’s proximity to Leeds, centre of England’s woollen trade, was another factor.


Anyone familiar with this blog will know the Regency era writer/illustrator George Walker, whose ‘Costumes of Yorkshire’ (1814) is a frequent flyer. In 1813, Walker travelled the county, documenting the clothing of ordinary, working folk.  Walker is so fascinating as he was documenting the costume of ordinary people at a time when no-one was much interested in this. I have often used Walker’s illustrations for my work. Incidentally, the Sherburner in his picture is wearing the universal rural working class woman’s uniform of the red cloak. See my Pinterest page here for more UK and US red cloaks.


Walker wrote:

The Teasel, or Dipsacus sativua, is a plant much cultivated in the east part of the West Riding, though form the impoverishing nature of the crop, which requires two years to bring to maturity, it is seldom approved by the proprieter of the soil. It is however and article of essential importance to the Colthier, who uses the crooked awns of the heads of this plact for raising the nap of the cloth. In the autumn of the second year the heads of the plant are cut off, carefully dried, and after being fixed upon long sticks, are conveyed away for sale. Temporary sheds are usually erected in the teasel fields for the work-people employed, who not unfrequently form very interesting groups.


In his 1822 Trade Directory, Baines wrote that teazle-growing was “almost peculiar” to the Barkston Ash wapentake (Sherburn in Elmet is part of this area; Biggin a neighbouring village). [157].


One reason Sherburn may have been the centre of teazle growing was that it was on the direct road to Leeds that became the old A1 – the primary route between Scotland and England. Teazles were needed by the croppers like Tom Lister – who had moved to Leeds by the mid 19thC. Although the 1850s saw my dad’s wool trade  ancestors move from Huddersfield to Leeds, the same decade also saw a peak for the teazle trade; as machines evolved, the teazles could be replicated with machinery. Although there were still a handful of teazle growers in Sherburn by WWI.  R.A.McMillan suggests that whilst it was handy for the West Riding wool industry to grow teazles closer to home, they could never quite produce enough to be self sufficient in them and still imported teazles from the older growing areas, down South, like Somerset, Gloucestershire and Worcestershire.


The Selby/Vale of York area was also a centre of woad and madder production in the 19thC. These would also decline sharply after the introduction of aniline dyeing in the 1860s.


Teazles were a biennial crop which made heavy demands on the soil and was labour-intensive to grow.  They needed constant weeding but the farmer would see no return on the crop for 18 months after sowing. Like any crop, if there was damp weather during harvest the whole crop might rot away and be useless. Yet if the yield was high – prices would be lower.


The fact it was high risk meant the teazle industry developed an unusual system, where the farmer would rent the land and a specialist teazle grower come in, and work the crop and bear the brunt of the risk. These were called “tazzle men”. The farmer would plough and prepare the land then the tazzle man take over. They would share the profits equally. Many tazzle men had other jobs. One Sherburn grower was a mole-catcher. [161]. Others shop-keepers, butchers as well as farmers.


Sometimes woad was grown between the teazles. (Madder was also often commonly sown with woad).  Plants were so tall they hid the harvesters from sight; and were harvested often by casual labourers – women and men. They were tied in bunches of around 50 and dried in temporary huts, like in Walker’s illustration. It’s interesting that the female labourers in Walker’s picture, are wearing blue (woad) and red (madder) dyed clothes, as both dyestuffs were grown amongst and alongside the teazles. Woollen cloth was often of a lower value than worsted, so it is possible the textiles they were wearing, were made from West Riding wool with a nap raised by Yorkshire teazles.


Most of the Sherburn teazles went straight to Leeds. According to McMillan, Leeds was “the chief finishing centre serving the West Riding woollen industry” [164].  Carting teazles to be sold was such a regular thing,  that the “frequency with which the various routed were travelled can be seen from the fact that… the horses knew by themselves which pubs to stop at on the way. This was sometimes a source of embarrassment when the boss decided to come along on the trip” [165].


I know the very field where Walker must have stood to do this illustration. Promise I will go there soon and see if we can find any teazles in the hedgerows.




The Yorkshire Archaeological Journal, Vol 56, 1984, ‘The Yorkshire Teazle-Growing Trade’, R.A.McMillanp 155 ff.

Blue: British Breeds 5 ply guernsey; burgundy: Frangipani 5 ply guernsey; Grey: Blacker Yarns Classic DK



Mithrandir Fingerless mitts


Simple diamond patterned fingerless mitts, knitted in the round. I wanted to use up leftovers of 5 ply guernsey yarn, but realise not everyone has that lying around so made the same pattern, with the same sized needles, using DK as well. As you can see, the guernsey 5 ply mitts came out slightly smaller and because the yarn is smooth the pattern motif pops a bit more. The DK ones are cosier, though.  The allover diamond is a common gansey motif, especially popular in Scotland and the North of England.


These are great for playing your ukelele in a cold student flat. Also good for cycling. And they make a great stocking present for xmas. A fast knit.


Size:  Average, adult. Motif repeat is 6 stitches so for bigger, add 6 and smaller, detract 6 at cast on, if you want to keep perfect motif repeats!


Yarn:    About 120 m of leftover 5 ply gansey yarn


Use 1 ball DK.  (131 yards, 120 metres)


Needles:   2.5mm and 2.75mm dpn needles or circ needles to get tension

Tension: 6 sts per inch, stocking st.



Using smaller needles and longtail method, cast on 36 sts. Joining in round without twisting. Place Marker at start of round.

Rds 1 -3:  *(P1, K1), rep to end round

Rd 4: Purl

Rds 5 – 12 : Rep from *, three times  (ie: til you have 4 bands of purls and 4 bands of ribbing).

Changing to larger needles, K 1 round

All subsequent rounds: Follow chart, starting with round 1.

Work 6 rounds. Then continue to work according to chart, whilst making thumb gusset.


Thumb Gusset

Rd 7: Establish thumb:    Mk 1purlwise, place marker. Work in pattern to end round.

Next Rd: P1, work in patt to end round

Next round:  P1, Mk 1 knitwise, M1 purlwise, Work in patt to end round

Next round: P1, K1, P1, work in patt to end round.


Continue to inc two sts knitwise, inside the 2 purl sts, every other round til you have 13 thumb sts. (ie: You are increasing every odd number round).  [51sts when thumb gusset is complete, including the 2 P sts].

When you have 51 sts, work one more round then leave all thumb sts including the 2 P sts on waste yarn or st holder.


Rejoin in round and cont to knit body of mitt in patt as established.

Complete diamond patt, ending with a round 1 when you have four complete diamonds (vertically).

K 4 rounds in plain stocking st (stockinette).

Using smaller needles, P 3 rounds.

K3 rounds.

Cast off.


Complete Thumb

Using smaller needles, PU 15 sts waiting for you.

M 5 sts from body of mitt.  [20 sts]

K2, P2 rib for 4 rounds. Cast off.


Sew in all ends. Make second mitt as above.


allover diamond

NB: Chart Key

Purple = Purl st on right side

White = Knit st on right side


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