CREDIT: All photos (except the blurry one) taken by Nate Hunt.
Last weekend saw the now annual event, Propagansey. Gansey collector and expert Deb Gillanders fills the old St Stephen’s church in Robin Hood’s Bay with ganseys for a weekend, in September.
Some are from her collection and many are loaned by local people. One or two have patterns I will most definitely (what’s the posh word for ‘steal’?) er… borrow. But of course, that is within the tradition of seeing a nice gansey in church and committing it to memory. Plus it’s only odd elements gansey knitters ‘appropriate’: combining them with old favourites, to ‘unvent’ something new!
The old church was abandoned in the mid 19thC, when the then incumbent decided he didn’t like it. It was left standing, but unused for many years. For this reason, it’s almost a time capsule.
It has an intact West Gallery (most were ripped out when organs and choirs replaced the old church singers). By some fluke, we have a website about this subject as my great uncle X 4 was a church singer here in this Yorkshire parish where I live (50 miles or so from ‘Bay’ as the locals call it). He was a survivor in a bad accident on the river – Boxing Day 1833, 11 church singers from here drowned when crossing to the other half of the parish, other side of river. So we have spent the best part of 10 years resarching West Galleries, the 18thC – early 19thC music and singers. Ironic for someone as heretical as me.
Old St Stephens also has the creepiest thing ever. Mid Victorian May Day garlands, left hanging from the ceiling in a corner, all the vegetal-dyed colours faded except a few bright, vivid blues (would have been dyed with either imported indigo or native woad or – more likely – a blend of both). Blue ganseys would have been dyed with the exact same thing – until aniline dyes came in post 1860.
Is it just me finds these disproportionately eerie? Makes me think of that May Day at the start of Thomas Hardy’s ‘Tess of the d’Urbervilles’:
The banded ones were all dressed in white gowns – a gay survival from Old Style days, when cheerfulness and May-time were synonyms – days before the habit of taking long views had reduced emotions to a monotonous average. Their first exhibition of themselves was in a processional march of two and two round the parish. Ideal and real clashed slightly as the sun lit up their figures against the green hedges and creeper-laced house-fronts; for, though the whole troop wore white garments, no two whites were among them. Some approached pure blanching; some were all had a bluish pallor; some worn by the older characters (which had possibly lain by folded for many a year) inclined to a cadaverous tint, and to a Georgian style.
In addition to the distinction of a white frock, every woman and girl carried in her right hand a peeled willow wand, and in her left a bunch of white flowers. The peeling of the former, and the selection of the latter, had been an operation of personal care…
[Chapter 2, 'Tess of the d'Urbervilles, Thomas Hardy, 1891]
Deb had the brilliant idea of displaying the ganseys so they looked like they were ‘going to church’:
I think we have as knitters, often communicated via our handiwork. Propagansey told many of the ganseys’ stories: some had notes attached to them, about how or why they were made, like this one from Denise Newey (Denise, if you’re out there, do contact me! I hope you don’t mind me sharing this with other gansey knitters!):
“The first gansey I knitted, to show my father, who taught me to knit, that I had finally come of age as a knitter….”
There is also Denise’s poignant note on why this gansey was her final one:
I tried to record most of the ganseys. This was a particular fave (excuse dodgy photo – the good ones were taken by Nate Hunt but I took this blurry one!)
And check out the sleeve on this one – something really special, I thought:
As we left, a lady coming in asked to photo the Gansey of Pinkness. (Deb if you ever read this, I am ‘Pink Gansey Woman’). I think the lady was local. I told her I’m descended from the inland fishermen – Ouse and Humber. Although annoyingly, we left the Sunk Island gansey in the car, Alf, male model (by now bored of ganseys – heretic!) did pose for shots, wearing an old gansey:
But of course, Nate being Nate (he edits people out of photos but likes to keep in animals), we got this beauty:
And, in old St Stephen’s graveyard, a reminder of just who made all this gansey fun possible in the first place: