Antis Spinning Wheel, 1795

Antis Spinning Wheel, 1795

We’ve spent some time looking at the workhorse Great Wheel of the common woman – and ‘professional’ spinner – as far as any 18thC spinner was ‘professional’…

So… How about them there fancy spinning wheels?  York became a centre of excellence for wheelmakers in the late 18thC and early 19thC so I didn’t have to look more than a few miles down the road from my house, to find out about some innovative – but stylish – wheels and their makers.

When it came to pretty treadle wheels, “Probably the finest English maker of wheels of this type was John Jameson of York…” [Peter Brears, ‘The York Spinning Wheel Makers’].  Jameson’s wheelmaking business seems to have come about as result of travel across Europe and a wish to provide employment for “the industrious poor”. As we shall see, innovations in British wheel design came from beyond the UK. Like spinning;  spinning wheel making was sometimes seen as useful employment for the unemployed.

One of Jamesons’ trade labels read:

“JOHN JAMESON his TOY & TURNERY MANUFACTORY in Carlisle Buildings, Little Alice-Lane, in the City of YORK”

(Carlisle Buildings is now St Williams’ College, by York Minster).


St William's College, York, site of Jameson's shop

St William’s College, York, site of Jameson’s shop. Credit: Nat Hunt

Jameson started his manufactory round the corner, in Goodramgate, as a work of philanthropy. In ‘The York Courant’, 22nd August, 1780,  Jameson advertised his toy workshop/turnery, citing the city of Nuremberg where “there are neither beggars nor poor rates” as “the inferior class of people” were able to make a living making toys and small wooden items. [Quoted in Baines].  It seems Jameson had travelled in Europe: Germany in particular, seems to have had a continuing influence on innovations in the Saxony wheel.


As he wasn’t a Freeman of the City of York,  he couldn’t trade within the city walls, so set up on Goodramgate and within a decade, had moved to Carlisle Buildings (St William’s College’) in the shadow of the Minster.  Both sites close by The Bedern, York’s notorious slum, AKA “Hagworms’ Nest”.


Catharine Cappe. Image Courtesy Long Preston Heritage Project.

Catharine Cappe. Image Courtesy Long Preston Heritage Project.

At the same date Jameson was establishing his turnery, only a few streets away, Quaker philanthropist Catharine Cappe was taking the city’s “poor miserable girls upon the town” (ie: child prostitutes) and transforming them into industrious handspinners.  Mrs Cappe had seen firsthand the appalling working conditions of the children employed in a York hemp factory and wanted to establish a Spinning School on Andrewgate, to give them a chance in life. It’s possible Jameson supplied the York Spinning School’s machines. Jameson’s toy turnery seems to have evolved into a spinning wheel manufactory; making toy and normal scale wheels. He may also have imported  wheels readymade from Germany, as Baines cites an advertisement from 1789, selling the “‘Best inlaid and mahogany German and other spinning wheels’” [Baines, 159].


Jameson sold up in 1806, selling off his tools and all his wheels.


Joseph Doughty was baptised at St Michael-le-Belfrey, in York, in 1755. His shop was at 6 Coney St  (same street later we were to find the knitting emporium of Mrs Jackson. No 6 was at the top end of Coney St, near the Mansion House).  Doughty’s advert from ‘The York Herald’, 14th February 1795, mentions an intriguing innovation which sounds remarkably like the Woolee Winder – a device that obviates the spinner changing hooks on a flyer –  familiar to contemporary spinners:


“‘N.B. The new-invented spinning wheel, the most complete ever offered to the Public which winds the thread on the pearls in a cylindrical manner, and prevents the Ladies having the trouble of altering the thread in the feather…’”


According to Peter Brears, Doughty’s wheel seems to have incorporated an invention mentioned in the Transactions of the Royal Society of Art, 1793:


“‘Twenty guineas were this year voted to Mr John Antis of Fulneck (the Moravian settlement) near Leeds, for his ingenious method of causing the bobbin of the common spinning-wheel to move backward and forward by which means, the time lost by stopping the wheel to shift the thread from one staple, on the flyer, to another, as hitherto constantly has been practiced, is avoided.’”


It is intriguing that these refined upright parlour wheels were the ones to incorporate an innovation to speed up the spinning.  It is also interesting that those post Industrial Revolution inventions to speed up the now dead-in-the-water handspinning industry, both came from US inventors. (See our discussion of The Minor’s  Head).

Antis mentioned that his ‘contrivance’ would help both those who spun for a living and ‘ladies’ who spun for pleasure. (Putting paid to the myth of “Victorian parlour ladies’ wheels” as Antis seems to take it for granted a fine parlour wheel can also be a workhorse). Baines quotes a letter Antis wrote to the Society of Arts, saying: “‘I had it tried by a lady her, who sometimes spins for her diversion, who… thought it might save a person at least two hours, if not more in a day; which would be a great object for poor people.’”  [Quoted in Baines, p.165].  Although I suspect “a lady”’s guess of a two hour time saving was the generous side. Two years later,  Antis improved his design.


Fulneck Moravian Settlement, Leeds. Credit: Betty Longbottom , via Wikimedia Commons

Antis was an American-born Man For All Seasons; musician, composer, ‘mechanic’ and  inventor; not confining himself to spinning innovations  but also developing machinery for coal mines, mortice locks and “night bolts”, amongst other items. I found an account of Antis in  The General Evening Post, April 11th, 1786 where an anonymous writer described his correspondence with “Mr Antes” of the Moravian Settlement at Fulneck, Leeds. The anonymous writer was establishing that James Bruce Esq of Kinnaird had been to Abyssinia –  Mr Antis confirmed it in a letter. (It looks like poor Mr Bruce Esq wasn’t believed when he told tall tales of his travelling, so the anonymous writer contacted Antis, who had travelled with him).

Antis (here called ‘Mr Antes’) was born in Pennsylvannia, US., to German parents, “having shewed early abilities as a mechanic”, he moved to Europe. Antis became a watchmaker, although he served no apprenticeship. He travelled to the Moravian settlement at Cairo (slightly more exotic than Leeds!) Mr Antis lived for 11 years in Egypt before coming to the Fulneck Settlement in Leeds. He retired to Bristol where he died in 1811.  Before leaving America, he made instruments and a violin he made in 1759 is thought to be the earliest stringed instrument extant, made in the US.

It was only after doing a considerable amount of legwork to track John down, I realised he had a Wiki page. Doh. (Although there he was ‘Antes’ which probably explains my failure to pull that up on a straightforward search). I had already found a John “Antos” married twice, in both York and Calverley, West Yorkshire, to Susanna Crabtree in June, 1786 (marriages three days apart – maybe the second was in a Moravian church?)  Crabtree is a West Riding surname, so no doubt Susanna was from somewhere not too distant from Fulneck. On their marriage in York, her birth year was given as about 1761 and John’s as around 1746.

You can read more about Fulneck Moravian settlement here. Moravians, like Quakers, were a force for social change and philanthropy in 19thC Yorkshire. They lived in a self-sufficient community where textile production was important.


Antis’s Improved Spinning Wheel of 1793 and 1795 were both years after the introduction of the Water Frame and mechanised spinning. No doubt handspinning was in keeping with Moravian values.  Antis’ adaptation could be added to existing wheels, according to the Encyclopedia Britannica:


“his contrivance may be added to old spinning wheels of every construction ; and that it would not considerably increase the price of a new machine, made according to his plan.

Such are the advantages derived from Mr. A.’s mechanical ingenuity, which have, from experience, been ascertained in Yorkshire : it is therefore to be hoped, that so useful a domestic implement will speedily be introduced into other -counties of Britain.”

Doughty wheel with Antis’ ‘contrivance’, here.

There is also a Doughty wheel illustrated in Baines, p.166.

The wheelmaker’s mark was an ivory circle inscribed: ‘DOUGHTY YORK’.

John Doughty died in 1801. His wife, Martha, took over. Later her name was Marshall – it’s not known whether she reverted to a maiden name or married his business partner.  Wheels marked ‘Marshall late Doughty’ date between 1807-24, when she ceased trading.


Martha Marshall sold the business to John Hardy. His ivory disc read:‘HARDY LATE MARSHALL’. In 1832 he stopped trading. In the decline of Doughty’s company, we see the end of handspinning, as it was known.

Ivory inlaid detail, Bankfield, Halifax, Credit: Caro Heyworth

Ivory inlaid detail, Bankfield, Halifax, Credit: Caro Heyworth



‘Spinning Wheels, Spinners and Spinning’, Patricia Baines, Batsford, 1977.

‘The York Spinning Wheel Makers’, by Peter C.D. Brears, Furniture History, Vol XIV, 1978 p. 19 -24

The General Evening Post, London, April 11th, 1786  (newspaper)




ret pat dis 2The records of The Retreat asylum, in York, present some fascinating data for textile and costume historians.

Possibly the most valuable of all the tens of thousands of pages of records, are the Patients’ Disbursement Books. These recorded patients’ spending money and also monies patients earned from work, themselves.

In the late eighteenth and earlier nineteenth centuries, there even seems to have been a full blown micro-economy of patients repairing clothes for eachother and some patients spinning and knitting for the benefit of others. We can’t know whether this was thought to have therapeutic benefits, or whether it was an accidental by-product of the enlightened way in which The Retreat was run by its founders, the Quaker tea-dealing family, the Tukes.

The Disbursement books have accounts for named patients; each patient having their own pages, and interspersed amongst them, are records of the patients’ work, or what is referred to as the “Work Book sundry patients making and mending and knitting etc”.  These records were kept from 1796 onwards, and randomly interspersed with the individual patients’ spending accounts, are pages titled “Men Patients Work” or sometimes “Men Patients Work With Some of the Women’s”.

Either way, we’re privileged to glimpse these lost and long forgotten lives. Come with me, a moment, and we will step into the elegant confines of The Retreat, and see what we can find out about our ancestors’ knitting and hand spinning.

In 1799, patient Judith Robertson spent 3d on “knitting needles”. In 1802, John Summerland had: “A shilling for Cotton for foot of stocking” – which suggests the expense of cotton stockings as opposed to worsted. Frequently, patients were paid only 2 shillings and sixpence to knit a pair of worsted stockings. In 1807, “stocking worsted” cost just 10d.  Re-footing stockings was an ongoing thing.

In 1810, a patient bought “worsted for footing”. This reminded me of the passage of ‘The Old Hand-Knitters of the Dales’:

In Deep-dale (near Dent) the farmers principally employ themselves at home in sorting and carding wool for knitting. They call it welding; and the fine locks, selected for the leg of the stockings, they call leggin, whilst the coarser part goes by the name of footing. Two old people, Laurence and Peggy Hodson o’ Dockensyke, were both upwards of seventy, when Peggy died. As she lay on her death-bed, she said to her husband, ‘Laury, promise me ya thing, – at tou’ill not wed again when I’se gane.’  ‘Peggy, my lass,’ answered Laurence, ‘do not mak me promise nae sic thing; tou knaws I’se but young yet.’  The old fellow did wed again, and his brother, on returning from the wedding, made this report of the bride : – ‘Why-a, she’s a rough ane. I’se welded owre and owre, an’ I canna find a lock o’ leggin in her; shes a’ footing.’

[The Old Hand-Knitters of the Dales, p.80]

In 1808, Patient John Baker paid four shillings (20p) for “2 Pr Stockings & 2 Night Caps knitting”. John Gendry paid the same. By the middle of the year: “Patients work overall, Debit 15 £ 11s  and 3d. Credit 15 £, 11s and 3d”.  I.e: the books were balanced and all patients had paid for the work done for them. That is quite a volume of making and mending for a handful of months.

In May, 1808, two patients were paid for spinning worsted. H. Hall got six shillings and H Woodville, 4 shillings and 11d. When you consider at around these dates, the last remaining hand-spinners in Yorkshire might earn about a halfpenny per day spinning several ounces of wool, then 4 – 6 shillings represented a lot of spinning.

By the end of September, The Retreat’s Knitters were two shillings and 6d in credit, but by the last day of the year, they were ten shillings in credit. This might suggest knitting was something of an autumn/winter activity.

The same names or initials crop up frequently in the accounts for spinning and knitting. “M.W”  (probably patient Mary Wilson) and James Hashold are names that recur; Hashold’s in the context of knitting and Wilson’s in the context of spinning and knitting – in line with what we’d expect genderwise, for the respective crafts at these dates.  In 1815, the accounts mentioned:

“M Wilson wrested cotton 4-/… Worsted 2-/3d”  ["Wrested" is an old word for "tightly twisted"]. In December, 1815 M Wilson was credited with five shillings and 6d for knitting 4 pairs of stockings. Over the years, again and again M. Wilson is recorded as buying or spinning worsted.

The Retreat used worsted to make, repair or re-foot stockings. Throughout 1817 and 1818, “M.W” was repeatedly paid for worsted. Although in March 1817, patient Christopher Choat paid 7 shillings for “2 Pr Lambs’ Wool stockings”; so stockings could be woollen spun as well as worsted. (Dales knitters and Yorkshire farming families routinely knitted worsted stockings for commercial mills and woollen stockings for their own home use).  In 1807, Valentine Johnson paid “M.W” four shillings and 5d for a pair of stockings. In 1808, Sarah Impey paid two and six for “Lambswool Yarn for Stockings” and 8d for needles.

In June 1818, Elizabeth Hanbury bought “silk stripe stockings” although their price was rolled in with other items: “muslin, Dimity Crape, Parasol, Sarsnet.” for which, altogether, she paid four pounds, one shilling and 5d. Several times, patients bough “knitting cotton”. We can only speculate what was made from this.In 1817, Sarah Brady was paid a hefty three pounds for “Thread”. Sometimes, eighteenth century (and earlier) accounts mention “thread stockings” – as distinct from Lamb’s Wool, cotton, silk, woollen or worsted. I am not sure, but it is possible ‘thread’ meant two colour? They seem to have been expensive: in 1809, Sarah Harris bought a pair of stockings for one and six, but also a “Pr of Thread Stockings” for 4 and 6.

In ‘The Old Hand-Knitters of the Dales’, it is recorded that during the early part of the nineteenth century, Yorkshiremen still knitted but, as the pack-horse roads into the more remote areas were improved, they got shyer about doing it in public as outsiders found it “quaint”. Behind the walls of The Retreat, male patients who could already knit, maybe continued to knit. The small income some patients made from their spinning and knitting would have paid for little luxuries for themselves. The Disbursement books record patients buying oranges and lemons,  coffee, canary seed, strawberries,  snuff, sweets, alcohol, tobacco and the latest books – including anti-slavery books, poetry and novels, as well as everyday expenses like hair cuts, shaving, mending of stays and shoes.

At the end of March 1812, the Disbursements record a shilling spent on “Tape and needles”. If these were knitting needles, then ‘tape’ might well refer to simple tape bands, often used to attach knitting sticks to the knitter. At least two of the extant knitting sticks at the Bronte Parsonage Museum still have remnants of tape attached to them. Whilst workaday knitters used leather belts, it seems some of the more genteel knitters preferred tape (and The Retreat had many refined patients). Much later in the century, a doctor was to record one patient, a Daleswoman, pretending to knit, using “a bit of wood” – possibly a knitting stick, although the doctor, unfamiliar with this, wasn’t sure what he was seeing.

Dales gloves. (Originally pink and cream). I've reverse engineered these - pattern will be up soon!

Dales gloves. (Originally pink and cream). I’ve reverse engineered these – pattern will be up soon!

In June, 1809 Benjamin Boynes paid one shilling and 3d for: “A Pr of woollen Gloves”. Again, it’s likely these were knitted and possibly spun, in-house. This mention of gloves is a rarer thing – stockings seem to have been the commonest item made in-house. Poignantly, only months later, Benjamin’s accounts say:

“30 Sept 1809  9d Shroud JA  5 s 10d Making 1s 6 d Coffin 63s  Gravemaking 2/6″ …   (“JA” would be the person who made the shroud).

His funeral cost three pounds, five shillings and sixpence. A modest send-off by standards of some Retreat patients.

Most patients were buried in the Quaker burial ground behind The Retreat, which served for York’s entire Quaker community, not just the asylum – another measure of the humanity and humility of Quakers. But the Patients’ Disbursement books show the cost of funerals – and some patients’ funerals were far more lavish affairs than others.

Gloves were knitted in their thousands in the Dales but rarely crop up in accounts so it was especially interesting to find these, here. (The mill account books Misses Hartley & Ingilby mention in ‘The Old Hand-Knitters of the Dales’ are no longer extant, sadly. Or at least, their whereabouts is currently unknown). In 1808, Mary Jackson bought “Mitts” whilst a year later, Mary Boone, intriguingly bought “Fleecy Gloves” for a mighty 4 shillings. (It can’t be known for sure, but “fleecy” might refer to thrummed gloves, a bit like the famous Maine mittens?) In 1812, Thomas Atkinson paid two shillings and 9d for “yarn for Mufatees”.

Rarely a named knitter makes something for a named fellow patient. In 1809, Sarah Impey paid four shillings and sixpence to “Mary Prideaux for a Pr Stockings of her knitting”.

A page from Patients' Disbusements, 1804/5

A page from Patients’ Disbursements, 1804/5

By the 1820s, mentions of the patients doing their own spinning, diminish although patients continued to knit.  This reflects the death of the spinning wheel, out there in the world beyond The Retreat’s walls. From Case Notes it is apparent that many patients would never have been capable of spinning, at all.  By the second decade or so of the nineteenth century, amongst patients’ occupations, ‘spinner’ becomes a male preserve and there are a number of textile related occupations amongst the inmates. This would not be surprising for an asylum in Yorkshire, but The Retreat was unusual in that it drew patients from all over the UK and Ireland and in fact only a minority of the patients were Yorkshire folk.

It seems the patients weren’t always great at spinning. 18th February, 1805, the records mention:

“P[ai]d [illegible] for [illegible] of Comb’d wool spoil’d by the Patients in Spinning.  5 shillings”

That “Comb’d” wool tells us the patients were, at least in February 1805, spinning worsted. In 1805, raw wool cost around £70 a pack.  (According to the Journal of wool scribbler Joseph Rogerson, The Thoresby Society,  ‘Leeds Woollen Industry 1780-1820′,
Vol 30, 1929).

A pack was around 20 stones (280 lbs).  This would mean that the 5 shillings’ worth of wool the patients “spoil’d” would be about 1lb in weight – not a great deal of wool at all. The fact they were spoiling wool suggests there may have been patients teaching other patients to spin. As many hand-spinners learned to spin around age 5 or 6 – it’s not likely an experienced spinner, even a not very proficient/out of practice one, would be spoiling much wool at all. So this one entry tells us a great deal.

You can read more about Crafts and The Retreat in the current (June) issue of ‘Family Tree Magazine’.

York Quaker Cemetery

York Quaker Cemetery


Images 1 and 3 Courtesy the Borthwick Institute. Credit: Nathaniel Hunt

Image 2: Courtesy The Dales Countryside Museum, Hawes. Credit: Belinda May

Image 4: Credit: Nathaniel Hunt





 This month’s ‘Family Tree Magazine’ (UK)  has a piece I did about crafts in eighteenth and nineteenth century asylums. Whilst researching, I stumbled on these amazing  Native American autographs, in The Retreat’s ‘Visiter’s Book’, made by visiting Seneca nation dignitaries, in 1818. Couldn’t shoehorn them into the piece,  so here’s one for all of yous out there who love this stuff.

I hope to be getting back to the Thackray Medical Museum in Leeds, very soon, to do some more research on the amazing Lorina Bulwer’s craft work, and hopefully will be evolving some workshops for those of us who want to learn to rant via the medium of embroidery.

Gentle Reader, join me in the pages of Family Tree Magazine and find out more about our ‘insane’ ancestors and the way they used crafts for therapy, venting, and sometimes simply to pass the time.

Asylum records (where they exist) are an incredible resource for both historian and genealogist. In areas like Yorkshire and Lancashire with a rich textile industry heritage, you can find amongst those committed; spinners and weavers, mantua-makers, milliners and tailors, knitters, mill-owners, husbandmen and farmers.

To find out more, read this month’s ‘Family Tree Magazine’ (June 2014). Available at all good newsagents, etc.





Images By Kind Permission of The Borthwick Institute, University of York

Image Credit: Nathaniel Hunt (York College’s Art & Design Student of the Year)





Skeins of gansey yarn

Skeins of gansey yarn

This week, I’ve mostly been spinning gansey yarn.

Here is some of it on the clothes horse. It’s been washed and is dried unweighted. That is the extent of ‘blocking’ for knitting yarn.

Why is commercial guernsey yarn always 5 ply? Because guernseys came about post Industrialisation. By the 1820s, most yarn in England was machine spun. The Spinning Jenny had already been superceded by the Water Frame. Handspun was less common, although some 20thC Dales knitters recalled their grandmothers spinning for home use but they are often talking about small things like stockings and gloves rather than the ‘Popped Uns’ (jumpers) and ‘jackets’ they contract knitted for mills.

So 5 ply guernsey yarn was firmly a product of the Industrial age. Machines liked making singles of a certain grist (fatness) and 5 plies of those singles made the perfect yarn for knitting guernseys. Other yarns made from the standard singles included 3 ply, 4 ply and double knitting.

There is no real reason for guernsey yarn to be 5 plies, but it might be better at more than 2. There are structural differences between 2 and 3 ply yarn.  I decided to go with 3 plies for my handspun. That gives me good stitch definition due to 3 ply having a more circular cross-section than 2 and also a bit more wear and strength.  No need to go up to 5 plies as it would never have been done historically: too much labour expended at nearly double the time to spin 5 singles as opposed to 3.

I decided to match my yarn approximately to Frangipani. It’s a nice grist; not too fat.  I wanted a slightly higher ply twist, though. I used iSpin Toolkit for all my calculations re. wraps and twists per inch and their handy calculator for ply twist to get a balanced yarn. First time I have used it and found it extremely handy.  Will be using it for all my projects!

On a certain blog, we are told, with utter authority:

” the old Fisherman’s Wool was rather tightly spun singles of fine wool, rather loosely plied.”

But this is the pronouncement of someone who has never seen ‘the old Fisherman’s wool’ or rather, the extant ganseys made from it. In fact it often strikes me as being fairly tightly plied. And, just to confound the theory that a looser ply makes a more ‘waterproof’ fabric with extra integrity therefore those ganseys were used for fishing… oddly the opposite is true:  ganseys I have seen that appear to be made from a slightly ‘woollier’ yarn, plied a bit looser, are often the grey ‘Sunday best’ ganseys that were never worn to sea. The ones worn to sea often have a sheen and patina, gaps between the stitches, and stitch definition like you wouldn’t believe, from the fact they are plied tightly. Oilskins existed, of course, so no need for a totally ‘weatherproof’  fabric.

Now the art in handspinning gansey yarn is to accentuate the lustre and the fact you’re preserving the length of the staple – at the same time, not to produce leaden, lifeless looking worsted. Fine spinning is of no interest to me as a rule as I want to spin for knitting. And I don’t enjoy lace knitting.

singles ganseyI’m spinning Blue Faced Leicester because it is easily obtainable beyond the UK,  so other spinners can replicate, but also because ‘Biffle’ is another product of the 19thC, like the gansey itself. It has the lustre of older longwools but is finer and softer than Cotswold, Wensleydale or Swaledale – all of which I sampled. All this spinning is for a design due to be published later in the year so the project as it progresses wil be Top Secret…

The big question is: how long would it take to spin the yarn for a gansey?   Bear in mind most of my spinning, 95% of it, is wool spun longdraw or silk spun semi-worsted from the fold. And for a gansey you need a short, forward draw (for true worsted).

Well, I looked to a certain blog for info:

one can easily spin and ply 400 yards of gansey yarn in 8 hours, so 30 to 40 hours of spinning time is a very reasonable estimate for total spinning time for the yarn for a gansey.

Only I’m afraid to admit, I failed to meet the Blogger’s exacting requirements as I found I couldn’t spin a skein of gansey yarn in 8 hours.

Admittedly 3 ply not 5, but I have discovered I can easily spin 100g of BFL into 3 fine singles of gansey yarn  in…. 75 minutes.

Am left wondering why our Hero is so slow, when he has spent so long pimping his wheel?   I’m using a TT Chair Wheel as it came to me from Mr Williamson in 1998.  Admittedly, it’s not an entry level wheel . So you could probably pimp a “Traddy” til you were gansey blue in the face and still end up with a much slower wheel than a Lendrum Saxony or some models of  TT, or many others, as they come to you from the workshop.  Maybe someone should tell him.

Our Hero says:

” I want a better tool. I am always refining my tools so they work better. Better tools are how better spinners made better money…”

I’m different. I like my “tools” fit for purpose.  On the day I buy them and ever after.  I don’t want to refine them or spend further money on them. I am not a wheelwright, or turner or mechanic.  Spinners in the past were the same – they spun on the wheel they had. It’s unheard of to find an old wheel that has been heavily adapted after manufacture.  (And I say that as someone who has seen many old wheels both on display in museums and behind the scenes in reserve collections – not as someone who has just read a book or two). The best contemporary wheel-makers provide all a FAST spinner needs. Although it doesn’t fit the thesis that they have been actively selling “slow” wheels for “Victorian parlour ladies”, or, in Our Hero’s more sexist and offensive language “Boss Cows” and their herds…  The statement:

…modern wheels all have a very narrow envelop [sic] of performance design standards.  Is that because they go as fast as is mechanically possible?  No, it is what the group wants, so everyone can spin the same yarns at the same rate.

insults wheelmakers, who are fellow craftspeople as well as spinners.  According to this person, spinners (that’s you and me!) are divided into ‘Boss Cows’ and… cows. Nice, eh?  And the whole herd is part of some kind of evil conspiracy to keep wheels slow. These are the words of someone who has only owned a nice, but mass produced, entry level wheel and makes the mistake of judging every other spinning wheel on the market, by the standards of the only wheel they have owned. It also shows deep ignorance of old wheels as they are essentially no different to our modern ones. I think we’re looking at some profound misogyny here, with all the references to cows and Victoria’s court and hobbyists. For ‘hobbyist’ read: ‘female’.

A preliminary scout about in a spinners’ Rav group suggests that quite a few of us routinely spin considerably faster than the Blogger.  And even when we’re not trying to “race”. Check out YouTube video of Abby Franquemont spinning on a Lendrum Saxony, to see fast – but relaxed – spinning. Slow wheels have their place, too. I have days when I prefer to spin on my Timbertops Lonsdale. So I spin on it. I am not denigrating slower wheels. Spinning is a joy, not a chore.

Our Hero plies loosely but I am the opposite  and ply pretty tightly with a fair few twists per inch which slows down the plying process considerably. Even so, I am spinning in minutes what he appears to be able to produce in hours. And that is consciously going fast but by no means going flat out… I am not a particularly fast spinner, compared to many others. It is not something I have ever cared about, or focused on. Other spinners go faster than me.

If you are a competent spinner, you can spin the 5-ply needed for a gansey in 30 or 40 hours.

Ah that must make me (and many, many other spinners) incompetent, then. As I am spinning in odd moments, between other jobs (like handspinners of the 18thC) and after just several sessions last week, already have 700g of gansey yarn. There is a lot in there, as usual, about how “experts” are not as expert as our Hero:

The spinners that have been spinning for 30 yeas [sic] should have gotten busy 25 years ago and developed those skills.

I’d just say: don’t make assumptions about craftspeople. Or denigrate them. 30 years is, coincidentally, precisely how long I’ve been spinning.  And without any wheel modifications, and not much effort to consciously ‘go fast’,  I can more than half the vaunted spinning time. Many experienced spinners will be faster than me.

My approach to learning to spin the impossible worked. Their criticism would only have validity if they were much better spinners than I am.

Show us the yarn. Show us that you can spin a full hank of 5-ply sport weight in 8 hours of spinning. If you can’t do that, then you do not have the moral authority to criticize me.

To be honest, in 8 hours, I could spin 3 skeins of guernsey yarn to his 1. Better, faster… and cheaper.

That said, I’d give no credence to the idea that speed = good spinning. But just wanted to deflate the windbag and his offensive assumptions.

75 mins is a reasonable amount of time to spin one leisurely, Parlour Lady skein of gansey yarn.  So… What shall I do with the other 5  1/2 hours, per skein? Spinning a skein in 8 hours is not “doing the impossible”. But maybe doing the improbable, for certain wheels…

Anyone familiar with The Blog will know that whatever the Blogger is currently doing, becomes the yardstick by which others must be measured and found to fail.  Apparently no-one’s opinion on weaving is valid, unless they have woven ‘a bolt’ of ‘woolen shirting fabric’, for example. I have 2 problems with this particular example. (i)  no ‘shirting’ fabric in Europe was woollen. Shirts were always made from linen, later cotton. So there is no such fabric in the English aulnages anyway, historically. So no need for anyone to make it as even re-enactors can’t use it. And (ii) Well… as you haven’t done it yet either, all your opinions are invalid, by your own criteria.

And, all the folks who say that my analysis of history is wrong, did not manage to learn to spin as fast and as fine as I do.

No. That’s true. The boss cows spin faster. Some of them finer, too.



Old Hand Knitters of the Dales is up for pre-order  as an e Book,and print copies coming VERY soon! (It’s being printed in the UK, although it has a US publisher, so copies should be available here, too, shortly)

And I will try and get a thrumming video up and linked to on here, so anyone who is making the General Carleton Hat or the G Walton 1846 gloves, has a handy guide, ASAP.







Long Horn's signature in 'The Visiters' Book', 1818.

Long Horns’  signature in ‘The Visiters’ Book’, 1818.

In June’s ‘Family Tree Magazine’  I will have a  piece about crafts done by ancestors in asylums.

Here on the blog, I like to share those fascinating bits and pieces from my research that I can’t shoehorn into my writing. Amongst the documents I used for the research, was the ‘Visiters’ Book’ [sic] of the Quaker-run, Retreat asylum in York. (RET 1/4/4/1).

It struck me as a great resource for genealogists and historians, alike. A book full of names and addresses of people from all over the world.

The book has signatures and comments  from everyone from celebs like the Duke of Wellington,  to “Rodrick McCloud. A person from Scotland who has been many years in America in the mercantile trade”.

The asylum was progressive – the first of its kind in the world, so attracted visitors and enquiring minds from various countries.  Another American visitor came on 11th March, 1803: “Abraham Barker, New Bedford, Massachusits [sic], N. America, a young man (a Friend) on a tour…”  (‘A Friend’ meant a fellow Quaker, member of the Society of Friends).

I was unable to explore the ‘Visiter’s Book’ in the article ~  so for your delectation, and as a taster for anyone who may want to read that issue of ‘Family Tree Magazine’, here is one of my favourite autographs.  I will put up more of them over the next few weeks.

In 1818, a group of native Americans, from the Seneca nation, visited the Retreat.   The Seneca were one of the Five Nations of the Iroquois, and allies of the British in the Seven Years War and the American Revolution. It seems their cordial relationship with the British survived into the early nineteenth century.

On the 8th May, 1818, “A Chief and six warriors of the Seneca Indians with their Interpriter [sic] came to breakfast and stop[ped] til about two P.M…”  The Visitors, who included a chief, his brother-in-law and son, signed the ‘Visiters’ Book’ with pictographs, “the marks of their Tribe” as the Visiters’ Book termed them. I suspect these may refer to their various war bands?  The chief, Long Horns, signs with a pictograph for his name.  Their names were rendered phonetically in the book, and then translated into English. Considering how few native American autographs from Regency times, must exist in the world – these have to be priceless. They are a valuable piece of history for both the Seneca nation and Yorkshire.

I have used very many primary sources, in recent years; documents dating back from Tudor times onwards. But I have to admit this is my favourite ever ‘find’ in an archive.  I have always loved the unexpected and arcane in Yorkshire history. This is close to the motherlode.

I will share more from the Senecas’ visit, in the next few weeks, for those who love this stuff as much as me.

Photo Credit: Nathaniel Hunt

Image by kind permission of The Borthwick Institute For Archives, University of York.

The Old Hand-Knitters of the Dales, 2014 edition.

It still doesn’t feel real, to me, but… The new edition of ‘The Old Hand-Knitters of the Dales’ is here!

Our new edition reproduces the text of the 1951 First Edition, but we have added a Dales glove pattern and an Introduction, which gives biographical information about the previously mysterious writers/illustrator, Misses Hartley and Ingilby.

This edition’s journey to publication strangely mirrored the journey of the first edition, which was completed in 1949, but wasn’t published til 1951. In that edition’s case, the delay was due to post-War paper shortages! In the new edition’s case, we had to contend with various delays beyond anyone’s control; not least the unexpected complexities of a certain Dales glove. There are also some notes about these gloves: I think I have tracked down the original owner.

Putting the new edition together,  we wanted to give some context for Miss Hartley and Miss Ingilby;  the ladies remained shadowy figures to knitters and yet they gave generations of knitters so much enjoyment. So I researched their lives; travelling to the Wordsworth Trust’s museum and Wordsworth’s former home,  Dove Cottage, in Cumbria – following in the footsteps of Marie Hartley, who was there in 1948 or ’9, illustrating the Dales gloves in their collection. There we made some very dear friends – a happy by-product of our journey all over the North of England, putting together this special edition.

I also spent time in Leeds at the Yorkshire Archaeological Society, where Marie Hartley and Joan Ingilby’s archives are deposited. And yet more time up in the Dales at Hawes, to research in the reserve collection at the Dales Countryside Museum; the museum Marie Hartley set up; the core of her personal collection of farming and knitting paraphernalia becoming the beginnings of their collection. On one visit, I found myself behind the scenes with a gentleman researching arcane Dales folk music. He had a squeeze-box of some kind with him, and kept playing melodies, as he researched. I couldn’t resist striking up a conversation and it turned out he had been Miss Hartley and Ingilby’s neighbour for years!

Original dustjacket, 1951 edition.

We wanted to bring Dales knitting alive again for a new generation of adventurous knitters, so the incredible force of nature that is Shannon Okey decided we’d include a pattern for one of the very gloves Marie illustrated. We decided on the most complex extant Dales glove. The famous ‘Mary Allen’ gloves are a sedate walk in the park compared to the glory that is the “G.Walton. 1846″ glove (now on display at the Wordsworth Trust’s Museum in Grasmere). In the end, I reverse engineered the Walton gloves with the help of designer Tom van Deijnen (tomofholland), and “Corvid”, whose technical knowledge is formidable.  As a result, the new edition is the end-product of a collaboration between people from England, Holland (but living in England!), Canada and the US. A truly international effort for a book that is apparently so “Yorkshire”!

We hope everyone who has ever loved this book finds something new and interesting in this special edition.  And also that it finds a new generation of readers who will love it as much as it deserves. Which is a lot. It is a classic milestone, and a piece of knitting history in its own right. Incredible for a book written by two non-knitters in the 1940s!

‘The Old Hand-Knitters of the Dales’ is available for pre-order,  and the pattern is up on Ravelry.

Marie Hartley's original illustration of the "G.Walton" glove.

Marie Hartley’s original illustration of the “G.Walton” glove.




I took up the challenge to trace the previously elusive Dr Richard Lloyd Pinching; a rather sinister presence who figures in the embroidered rants of Lorina Bulwer.

Pinching was a surgeon from Northern Ireland who practiced in Walthamstow for over twenty years, surviving scandal (it came to light that he had sent a series of explicit letters, grooming a 13 year old child from Walthamstow Orphans’ Asylum) and notoriety (he tried to persuade a dying, wealthy  patient to change his will), until suddenly de-camping to San Francisco, aged 60, with Lorina’s sister Anna Maria Young.  Where he re-invented himself and Anna Maria, as a presitigous doctor and his wife. Dr Pinching’s actual wife remained in London, living into the 1880s.

Pinching’s obituary sheds more light on his life (and gruesome death):



While Visiting Friends at Cherry Creek, Nevada, He Perishes In Their Burning House

Dr Richard L. Pinching, a prominent physician and surgeon of this city, was burned to death last Friday night, at Cherry Creek, White Pine county, Nev., where he had been spending a two months’ vacation with the family of John Wearne, a well-known mill-owner of that section. The fatal accident occurred in the early morning.

At an early hour, Mr Wearne smelt strong fumes of smoke, and rising from his bed at once went to Dr Pinching’s room, from where the smoke seemed to be coming. He quickly opened the un-locked door, only to see the room blazing with flames, and Dr. Pinching burning to death in their midst.

Abandoned home at Cherry Creek, Nevada. Credit: The Utahraptor at Wikimedia Commons

Abandoned home at Cherry Creek, Nevada. Credit: The Utahraptor at Wikimedia Commons

The open door increased the draft, and the flames soon spread throughout the building. Mr Wearne gave the alarm, and he and his family had only a few moments to save their lives.They rushed from the burning building in their night-clothes. No aid could be obtained, as the nearest town was Wells, 200 miles away. The flames had so increased that the entire building and outhouses were soon in flames, and the family could do nothing but stand to one side and see the place perish.

When the fire had died away the smouldering ruins were searched for the body of the dead physician. They were found in a ghastly shape, and the kind friends collected them and gave them burial last Sunday in the little churchyard near Cherry Creek.

Mrs. Pinching, widow of the deceased, did not hear of the death of her husband until Monday night, when a friend of Mrs Wearne, to whom the latter had written about the accident, told Mrs. Pinching. It is needless to say that the lady was terribly overcome by the shock, and it was a long time before she could realize the situation. To a CHRONICLE reporter last night she told the sorrowful tale. She said her husband had gone to Cherry Creek for his health at the wish of Mrs Wearne. He wrote to her, telling her how much his health had been improved by the brisk mountain air, and Friday last, the fatal day, she received a letter from him saying he would return home in October.

Mrs.Pinching telegraphed to Wells, Nev., Monday night, to learn the details of the accident, and sat up all night waiting for the answer, which did not come until yesterday afternoon.

The late physician was born in the north of Ireland, and when a young man began to study medicine there. He graduated from the leading London medical colleges and was a prominent member of the Royal College of Surgeons, England, and of the Dublin Lying-in Hospital. He came to California twenty years ago, and has resided in this city at 1516 California street, for some time.

Dr Pinching was 80 years old, and leaves a large circle of relatives and friends who mourn his loss.”


[San Francisco Chronicle, Wednesday August 15th, 1888].


John Wearne was a Cornishman, son of a prosperous miller in St Gluvius, Cornwall, 1839. Wearne seems to have been active in raising British capital to finance mining operations in Nevada; starting at Treasure City and later moving to Cherry Creek:

“Early in the summer of 1869, a Treasure City resident by the name of Wearne began collecting an assortment of fine ore from the mines of the White Pine District to show capitalists and ‘scientific men’ in Europe, and to exhibit in the leading museums of the United States and abroad. His primary aim was to obtain financial support and technical skill for the construction of an elaborate smelting works in Swansea. By the winter of 1870, European capitalists were displaying far more enthusiasm for Nevada mines, than Americans…”

[‘Treasure Hill: Portrait of a Silver Mining Camp’ by William Turrentine Jackson, p.16 University  of Nevada Press, 1963, page 166].

I managed to track Wearne down by finding his gravestone listed here.

And also found Wearne here, via Google Books:

“Angus B McDonald arrived at Cherry Creek in the late ’70s or early ’80s and was at first employed by John Wearne, who was operating a saw-mill. When the Cherry Creek crash came Mr Wearne was unable to pay Mr McDonald considerable back wages… so I believe that Mr McDonald agreed to take over the saw mill  and to pay Wearne the difference. …”

[Nevada In The Making,  From The Nevada State Historical Society Papers vol. IV 1923-1924, pp. 255-474. p.424]

From this we can see John Wearne’s fluctuating fortunes. By 1888, the year Dr Pinching burned down his Cherry Creek home, Wearne had been compelled to rebuild his life from scratch at least once, already.

We glimpse the precarious lives of English and Northern Irish ex-pats in the boom and bust world of mining, half a world away from home. Both Cherry Creek and Treasure City are now ghost towns. No doubt Pinching went where the money was. From the fact Anna Maria wasn’t even directly informed of his death makes me wonder whether he ever truly intended to return to San Francisco. It’s likely Wearne had no idea about ‘The Alleged Walthamstow Scandal’ years before and was as taken in by Dr Pinching’s reinvention of himself, as the residents of San Francisco appear to have been.  Pinching appears to have vanished to Australia, then New Zealand, a few years earlier – only to reappear in San Francisco.

And finally, what became of Anna Maria? Her obit – and Dr Pinching’s – were found by fellow knitting genealogist, Melissa, who came to my aid with the Ancestry worldwide stuff. Without Melissa’s work, Pinching and Anna Maria would have appeared to fall off the edge of the world when they left London in 1870. Indeed, in some ways, they did. Who could have predicted the member of the Royal College of Surgeons, and graduate of Dublin’s prestigious Lying-In Hospital, pillar of the community in prosperous Walthamstow, would end up burning to death in Cherry Creek, Nevada?

In the embroidered letters, Lorina believed she was an only child and her sisters, Anna Maria and Amelia, were imposters. At one point, she wrote she was the Bulwers’ “ONLY DAUGHTER”.

Anna Maria had two suitors, a young lawyer and George Young.  In one sampler, Lorina mentions Anna Maria’s children:


[Norfolk Transcript, 1901].

(‘LOYD’S SHIP’ will be a confused reference to Lloyds of London, no doubt, not Richard Lloyd Pinching).

‘Her three’ children? Anna Maria was only recorded as having Herbert, born 1862, with her on the passage to America. No trace can be found of the child, Walter, born 1861, from her marriage to George Young. Her stepchildren were also left behind.

Lorina was preoccupied by the paranoid idea that members of her family were changelings, or simulacra.   In the Leeds Lorina, she speaks of Anna Maria as a kind of hollow woman: “MAKING AND ALTERING SHAPES THE SKELETONS INSIDES/COMPLETELY EATEN AWAY”.

Yet maybe it was understandable that no-one was quite who they seemed and that identities shifted. Anna Maria is a chimera in the samplers; never real. Now we know the story, we can understand Lorina’s use of the surname ‘Young’ was very pointed. Anna Maria was to spend decades of her life as ‘Mrs Pinching’ when legally, she was indeed “Mrs Young”. Lorina knew it was artifice.

1860 Fashion Plate. Via Wikicommons.

And maybe this finds expression in this extraordinary description of Anna Maria:


[Norfolk Transcript, 1901].

 Pinching had verified Lorina was “a properly shaped female”; Anna Maria’s shape was not ‘proper’ and something about her was not even female, according to Lorina. Anna Maria was not who she said she was. There is an essential truth underlying Lorina’s rant. The shape of people; and their ability to not be what they seem, is Lorina’s preoccupation. And maybe now we know more of the story, this makes more sense.

Lorina believed her mother, Ann Bulwer nee Turner, was the real Queen Victoria, and that she had been switched with an imposter; doomed to live out the life of a grocer’s wife in Great Yarmouth, whilst the ‘fake’ Queen took her place:


[Norfolk Transcript]

Her older brother Edgar (“E.BULWER ESQ”) knew “the truth” so had her committed to the asylum. It is possible Lorina’s  mother genuinely had this delusion, and Lorina grew up believing it. She also believed her sisters were somehow not real, although never seemed to doubt Edgar’s solidity.

From Illustrated Police News, January 7th 1882

This idea of people being simulacra is stronger in the Leeds Lorina. Speaking of a fellow inmate, Lorina says: “SHE IS A COPY OF REUBEN MARSHALL SHE/IS ALSO A COPY OF Mr SAMUEL GUNTON BUTCHER”. One ‘fake’ woman is described as: “A MONGREL SOW DRESSED IN SATIN“.


[Leeds Transcript, 1904]

Lorina smelt the snake-oil salesman and even knowing Pinching was from Northern Ireland, felt he was somehow ‘American’ (he was naturalised within a couple of years of emigrating).

One sampler ends with the cryptic:


[Norfolk Transcript]

As we know there was no blood tie, or even one by marriage, between Pinching and the Bulwers, we have to wonder about the nature of the connection between Pinching and Lorina.  We can’t know why Lorina would have submitted to or been made to submit to, an examination by keen gynaecologist, Richard L. Pinching. It implies she was staying with Anna Maria in Walthamstow at some point before 1870 and that she met and knew Pinching and seems to have felt there was some tangible “tie” between them. She had been here before – with Anna Maria’s former beau, Frederick Palmer.

Moses & Son were successful and fashionable tailors in The Minories, London.  Lorina was probably linking them randomly; it is possible in her earlier incarnation as a milliner, she had some dealings with them and, in her paranoia, associated them with her arch-enemies.

(Politically Correct Lorina was not. The embroideries touch on all kinds of prejudices common to late nineteenth century England; anti-semitism, and also suspicion of socialism,  republicanism, the French and “tramps”. The Leeds Lorina mentions “A CONNECTIVE TRIBE UNION”. We seem to be looking some kind of paranoid personality disorder. At one point, Lorina decided she had inherited and was the rightful owner of, two people’s houses (one, a local doctor her sister had rejected as a suitor years before, the other a workhouse dignatory’s) and that she threatened to leave the asylum and would “RETURN TO MY HOUSE IN/AUDLEY STREET AND REMOVE MY FURNITURE TO F. PALMER/Esq HOUSE SOUTH QUAY” [Leeds Lorina]. Annexing of other people’s spaces seems to be characteristic of the powerlessness she must have felt; a sort of helpless flailing. Part of Lorina may have known the Palmers would be horrified by her turning up on their doorstep with all her goods and chattels, fresh from the asylum.

Lorina frequently characterised her enemies as belonging to some kind of socialist cabal, or else they were “hermaphrodites” or “eunuchs”; as if she was erasing/denying gender.

We have only to think of the anti-semitic hysteria in London, surrounding the Jack the Ripper murders of 1888 – the year of Pinching’s death in Nevada – to remember how prevalent anti-semitism was, at this time and indeed Lorina herself references the Ripper in two of the samplers, deciding he must be a man called Taylor, an old acquaintance/relation.

Lorina’s hatred for Anna Maria may have had its roots in sexual jealousy. In the earlier sampler, she mentioned Anna Maria rejecting a proposal from Great Yarmouth man, Frederick Palmer. In the later sampler, she claims Palmer left Lorina his house in his will. Maybe years earlier, in the 1850s, Lorina had had her eye on Palmer, only for him to propose to her sister? Speculation, but interesting as it might shed light on her thoughts about Pinching, who ‘examined’ her, pronounced her to be ‘properly shaped’ and then eloped with her sister.


[Leeds Transcript]

On one hand, she insisted she was an only daughter and no relation to this imposter,  Anna Maria. On the other hand, she felt Anna Maria’s relationship with Pinching gave her “ties” to forbidden knowledge; or power. Anna Maria’s obit, dated close to the time Lorina was admitted to Great Yarmouth’s workhouse asylum, mentions other Pinching children as does the Leeds Lorina:



(Crossley and Peto appear to have been Workhouse officials, unconnected with Anna Maria).

Several years into Lorina’s time at the asylum, and half a world away, Anna Maria died:

“PINCHING – In this city May 20, Anna Maria, widow of the late Dr R.L.Pinching,and beloved mother of Mrs W.A.McAfee, and Arthur and Herbert Pinching, a native of Beckels, [sic] England, aged 60 years, 11 months and 25 days.

Friends are respectfully invited to attend the funeral services to-morrow (Saturday), at 10 o’clock, at her late residence, 1524 California street. Interment private, Masonic Cemetery.”

[San Francisco Chronicle, 21 May 1897]

Lorina died in the workhouse, of influenza in 1917,  aged 79.

If she was indeed admitted, round about 1894, she’d have spent 23 years in there. In the 1901 and 1904 embroidered letters, she was keeping her old life alive; recounting names, places and people that “I, Miss Lorina Bulwer” had once known; maybe in an attempt to pin down her own shifting identity or counteract that hollowness she detected in other people.  Her bete noirs, the Pinchings, were by then long gone.

Her story has taken us through England, Ireland and America, and home again. From a workhouse asylum, to White Pine County; worlds apart but now equally, unpopulated ghost-towns, held together by the frayed threads of one woman’s life. Lorina wrote of the inherent artifice of the people around her, focus of her paranoia : “MAKING AND ALTERING SHAPES THE SKELETONS INSIDES/COMPLETELY EATEN AWAY” – their identities so erased not even the skeleton remains.   Yet the marks she made with yarn on fabric, have lasted and have given us a privileged insight into that most nineteenth century of people, “the madwoman in the attic” and what lay beyond the flashy, fashionable lives of Dr Pinching, Anna Maria, and the cast of characters who come alive in Lorina’s letters “from Hell”.

Punch, August 1856. Via WIkicommons.


Thanks to: Melissa, who found the non UK info.

Thackray Medical Museum, Leeds, who kindly allowed me to see the ‘Leeds Lorina’ and accidentally ended up giving me a guided tour of the old Leeds Workhouse! And gave me a transcript of the Leeds Lorina.

Norfolk Museum Service – all there who helped me with transcripts, etc.






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