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If you’re interested in war-time knitting, this May I’m doing a talk at The Yorkshire Farming Museum, Murton Park.
We’ll be looking at the war-time resurgence of Fair-Isle knitting, and also at War Effort ‘knitting for Victory’.
Talk: “Fair-Isle Resurgam and Knitting For Victory”.
Day: Saturday May 11th, 2013.
Time: 1:30 – 3:30.
Place: The Yorkshire Farming Museum, Murton Park
Cost: £4.50 a ticket, which includes 1940s’ themed refreshments
To Book: 01904 489966
More about Murton Park’s Women’s Land Army project, here.
On the day, any donations to the Women’s Land Army Tribute memorial, will be very gratefully received.
In the meantime, if war-time knitting is your thing, please visit Susan Crawford’s site to lust over/download Susan’s Wartime Farm Sleeveless Pullover knitting pattern; raising money to build a lasting memorial to those women who served in the Land Army.
This month, I have followed in the footsteps of the mysterious “Mrs Jackson of York”, an 1840s’ knitting manual writer, about whom very little was previously known. With the help of one of Elizabeth’s descendants, I was able to uncover a fascinating story of an astute businesswoman, whose life encompassed both York and St Petersburg, and whose story collided with that of the doyenne of knitting writers, Edinburgh’s Jane Gaugain.
Jane Alison married London merchant, J.J.Gaugain around 1823, started publishing in the 1830s, and went on to become one of the most prolific writers of knitting manuals. Her books were not cheap at over five shillings, (the same price as Dickens’ 1840s’ novels) but their success can be gauged by this ad:
“Mrs G’s Works may be had of all Booksellers”.
For the Gaugains, business might have been booming, but their marriage was unhappy. They were eventually to live apart. Maybe J.J was getting itchy feet as early as the mid 1830s – he was already expanding his woolly empire South of the border in the summer of 1836:
Berlin Stitching Patterns
Mr Gaugain, Importer of German Patterns, Wools, &c, in EDINBURGH, has established a Branch Warehouse in YORK, under the management of Mrs Gaugain’s Sister…
Saloon, 14, CONEY STREET.
In 1838, J.J.Gaugain decided to de-camp back to Edinburgh and the owner of the neighbouring shop, goldsmith Edward Jackson took over the wool warehouse. In the 1820s, No 14 Coney St had been an exhibition room, sometimes used for freak shows. The shop rapidly became his wife, Elizabeth’s enterprise although she faced competition from J.J.Gaugain’s sister in law, Catherine Currie, who started her own Berlin Wool Shop on the same street.
‘Mr Gaugain’s Berlin Wool Depot’ became ’The Berlin Rooms’. Within a couple more years, the former freak show exhibition hall was now the first in a chain of shops run by Edward’s wife Elizabeth, and she was on her way to becoming known all over Britain as “Mrs Jackson of York”, writer of “The Practical Companion to the Work-Table”…
For more about Jane Gaugain and Elizabeth Jackson, check out ‘Yarnwise’ No.52, on sale now.
Yarnwise 51 is out. There, you can read more about our weekend at Dove Cottage and what Wordsworth had to say about the old hand spinners and knitters of Westmorland.
There’s also a great article by Lou Butt of Lou Butt Designs, about the Nude Ewe – brilliant project promoting our native British sheep breeds and their wool. Also, a great (contemporary) design by fellow gansey designer, Janine Le Cras of Guernseygal Designs.
Busy time here. We’re about to visit a very special museum to document some knitted items and knitting artefacts from the 19thC – I can’t say where we’re going, just yet, but it is exciting.
The sample knits for reverse engineered 19thC gloves in the new edition of ‘Old Hand Knitters of the Dales’ – as well as the sample knitting for ‘River Ganseys‘ – are now well underway. We think we chose the most challenging pair of Dales gloves extant to reverse engineer – and when it came to it, got a bit more than we bargained for; as a result, the gloves are now a collaboration between three of us. (Unveiling my lovely collaborators in the near future. We were so lucky to get such experts to work with us on this!)
If you are interested in either or both books, join the mailing list at Cooperative Press, and you will be notified when they are ready for pre-order.
And finally…. nothing to do with knitting or history but a bit of Nature for you, as we’ve been all Wordsworthian… Saw my first ever red squirrel in Grasmere. He was too fast for our photographer, but… later in the day, he spotted this slow worm:
Thy fragments to the bramble and the rose; There let the vernal slow-worm sun himself, And let the redbreast hop from stone to stone
[From Wordsworth's snappily titled "INSCRIPTIONS WRITTEN WITH A SLATE PENCIL UPON A STONE, THE LARGEST OF A HEAP LYING NEAR A DESERTED QUARRY, UPON ONE OF THE ISLANDS AT RYDAL, 1800"].
The latest Yarn Forward, No 33, features the mysterious and elusive Bob Jenkinson.
Some time ago, Filey Museum’s lovely staff gave me permission to use this photo. But there was no real provenance for it – just amongst a batch of things donated long before there was a protocol in place to record the whos and wheres, I’d guess.
So I went in search of Bob Jenkinson. He proved elusive- like all the best men.
I’ll chart this gansey’s pattern in my forthcoming book about the history of Yorkshire knitting – for anyone who’d like to knit it.
I re-wrote the article as I wasn’t happy with it – too much genealogy, too little knitting - and in the light of some info the nice gents at The Scarborough Maritime Heritage Museum gave me, when I chatted with them a couple of months back. But I think the layout etc was already done, and YF were happy with the copy they already had. Have I ever said how much I love Yarn Forward?
Here’s the re-write of Bob Jenkinson, for those who are interested.
We have some great ‘Knitting Genies’ coming up – a 1920′s knitted dress, and the earliest known photo of English angora bunnies, and hopefully, the earliest extant photo of a possibly Yorkshire knit stripey gansey.
For now, here’s Bob in his later, unpublished incarnation.
‘Robert Jenkinson’, Filey.
Photographer and date unknown.
Image courtesy of Filey Museum, http://www.fileymuseum.co.uk
Stood in front of his nasturtium-clad cottage in a forgotten early summer, Bob Jenkinson wears his gansey proudly. The Museum have no date for this photograph – just the subject’s name written on the back.
The photographer is unknown, but likely to be a professional, given the clarity of detail and the deliberate soft focus of the nasturtium leaves in the background. The photo is good enough for us to be able to recreate this gansey stitch by stitch, if we wanted to!
Bob’s gansey is a typical Filey one – vertical allover patterns, divided by ropes.
Like many mariners, Bob wore the 2 X 2 ribbed welt turned upwards. The cast on is a strong one – possibly a knotted one, given its firm line. Above the welt, the knitter appears to have worked at least 30 rows plain. Somewhere in this area, hidden under his moleskin jacket, she is likely to have worked Bob’s initials.The quality of the knitting really shows in that plain section above the welt. Filey Museum have some old sets of needles on display – they are plain steel, somewhere around 2.5mm.
Then the pattern begins. Like most Filey ganseys, it is an allover pattern in vertical bands, divided by six stitch ‘ropes’ (cables). The ropes stand out against a background of moss or purl stitches. The gansey has a simple 2 X 2 ribbed neck and we can’t see the shoulder treatment.
The neck is finished in the traditional way. Before crew necks or polo necks, ganseys were often given a collar of about 2” of 2X2 ribbing, completed with 2 rounds of purl stitch, and 2 rounds of plain. Bob wears a neckchief beneath this, to keep out the draughts!
It is a relatively straightforward piece of knitting – the ropes divided with strips of seeding stitches, in this case Mary Ann’s stitch/basket stitch. Ropes in ganseys are never mirrored, rarely complex and typically just 6 or 8 stitches wide. This gansey, like most others, will no doubt have been knitted from a commercial yarn – Poppleton’s 5 ply worsted. (In Yorkshire called ‘wassit’).
Using my genealogical sleuthing superpowers, I went in search of ‘Robert Jenkinson’ – and found several in Filey. The Jenkinsons were a notoriously complicated fishing family. Even the volunteers at the Scarborough Maritime Heritage Museum had heard of the family’s complexity, and told me it was a huge family, with one offshoot in Scarborough.
I’d dated this picture around the 1880s, going by Bob’s hairstyle and jacket. He looks to be in his late 50s/early 60s and sure enough, three Robert Jenkinsons fitted the picture.
All three Roberts were listed in Censuses as ‘Fisherman’!
In the 1881 Census, close to the photo’s date, only one Robert remained in Filey. The other one lived at a village a short distance away and the third turned up as master of a vessel, the George Peabody. The vessel was a 40 ton cod fishing ‘dandy’ out of Hull.
I realised, it was impossible to be sure which Bob Jenkinson this was.
The 19thC newspapers described the death of one of the Bob Jenkinsons, the former Master of The George Peabody:
“FILEY SUDDEN DEATH – On Tuesday Mr Robert Jenkinson, fisherman, of Alma-terrace Filey, suddenly expired in his chair at home. The deceased was apparently in his usual health. He was a leading man in the Primitive Methodist Society. He has for many years gone round the town with the Primitive singers, and was with them on Christmas Day in excellent spirits”.
[The Hull Packet , December 29, 1882]
The logical conclusion is that if the image predates 1882, it could be any of the three Bobs! If it postdates December 1882, it can’t be “Master of The George Peabody” Bob!
The Scarborough ex fisherman I spoke to, told me that the Filey Singers were almost all what Scarborough folk call “Wessies” (ie: Wesleyan Methodists). Apparently the current Filey Fishermen’s Choir mostly knit their own ganseys. It is possible this gentleman sang in the famous Filey Fishermen’s Choir.
We can safely conclude the picture shows a direct descendant of the Robert and Margaret Jenkinson whose children were born in the late 18thC in Filey. And if knitted by a family member, according to Censuses, it was very likely knitted by Elizabeth Jenkinson nee Cammish, or Elizabeth or Rachel Jenkinson, maiden names unknown! Again, we can come close to not only identifying this Victorian fisherman but even, possibly putting a name to the knitter of his gansey.
Image Courtesy of Filey Museum, http://www.fileymuseum.co.uk/
I’m ridiculously excited as the first in my ‘Knitting Genealogist’ series is out in the current issue of ‘Yarn Forward’ magazine. (Yarn Forward 29).
In it, we featured this undated photo by Lewis Harding which, using my basic sleuthing powers, I was able to date to the early 1870s.
I won’t say much about it here – but just to whet your appetite, I will say something that never made it into the article.
The photo is of Mary Jane Langmaid and Ann Elizabeth Jolliff.It was taken at Harding’s studio at his home, Osprey Cottage, in Polperro. Both were Polperro girls.
Lewis Harding was one of those middle class, slightly jobless types who had grown up in London, Cornwall and France. In middle age, his doctor thought taking up photography might be therapeutic. This photo was taken with the collodion process, so fairly cutting edge for the date. But we have earlier photos of locals – fishermen, on the whole, including the famous panel of 84 portraits, thought to be taken in the 1850s/60s. These are the first, clear images of ganseys ever taken.
Now, in theory….these girls could be two random locals, posed with someone else’s knitting. The collodion process required them to sit still for 30 seconds or slightly longer, meaning what we’re looking at here is Girls Holding Their Knitting, as opposed to Girls Knitting. The girls are not using knitting sheaths, as you’d expect professional hand knitters to do so, at this date. Or not obviously.
However, I managed to use Censuses to establish that Mary Jane and Ann were in fact contract knitters from an early age and both went on to knit for a living.
No doubt this is one of the earliest, quality close-up portraits of knitters at work. Knitting was an everyday sight in various ports and along various inland waterways. Yet we have very little record of it happening. What I didn’t get room to mention was – if you look very closely, at a blown up version of the image…. you can just see Ann’s knitting sheath poking out below her left arm. This makes it a Very Important Picture. The first known photographic image of a knitter with a knitting sheath…
If you’re remotely interested, buy the magazine and read more about Mary Jane and Ann. It’s so rare we can have such a good quality image, from so early on AND be able to put a name to the subjects.
Lewis Harding took numerous photos of the Jolliffs and other Polperro families, and it does put paid to that other hardy perennial of gansey myths – that villages, sometimes even families, had their own distinctive gansey patterns. Often no two Jolliffs were a remotely similar gansey and yet censuses show us these men are siblings/parent and child, etc. It is amazing to look at the men’s portraits and realise you know the name of the knitters of the ganseys they are wearing…
I have a more lengthy article in a forthcoming ‘Family Tree Magazine’ about tracing your knitting ancestors. It’s amazing just how many hand knitters there were in 19thC England.
I have been silent but not entirely lazy. Not just writing but doing book research. One of the areas I’ve been looking at are the York charity schools. I was really lucky enough to be able to hold a 1799 book by Catharine Cappe, founder of the York Knitting and Spinning Schools, in my hand and take notes directly from it. Catharine described precisely how the schools were run, when she set them up in the early 1780s.
Again, not a spoiler but a morsel…. Catharine was so successful with her charity school ventures that the already existing York Grey Coat Girls’ School asked her to intervene to rescue their failing venture.
In 1780, Catharine had visited York, only to hear that whilst the boys’ school (Blue Coat) was fine, the girls’ School turned out girls who were “sickly, remarkably low of stature, and unfavourable….”  The school’s doctor remarked to Catharine that there were, to his knowledge, “…nine miserable girls… upon the town,, the wretched victims of prostitution…”  Catharine decided to investigate.
In 1785, the School was rebuilt and Catharine asked to visit. She found the girls “…generally diseased in both body and mind; their appearance sickly and dejected; their ignorance extreme; and the description given to me by the new Master and Mistress of their moral depravity, truly deplorable.” 
Girls had to knit a stocking in a week by the age of around 7, to be even accepted into the main school. This gives us a sense of their speed and ability.
She managed to turn the place round and make the girls into knitters and spinners as opposed to Ladies of Negotiable Affections.
As hand spinning died out, the same class of women were encouraged to take up knitting. There were some things frame-knitting (machine knitting) couldn’t do – or couldn’t do well.
By the late 19thC, a girl who was a competent fancy knitter could earn more staying at home and knitting, than if she went out to be a servant – so it was an attractive option.
You can find this picture in ‘Cornish Guernseys and Knit-frocks’, Mary Wright, Polperro Press. Or Lewis Harding – Cornwall’s Pioneer Photographer, Philip Correll – both published by Polperro Heritage Press
Here follows a chart in PDF form with the alphabet for the ‘Adderback’ gloves which you can see back in one of the January posts..
Here’s some fun I’ve been having with a lightning pattern (right hand side) from a pair of gloves in the Dales Countryside Museum, in Hawes.
I call my version ‘Adderbacks’ as they remind me of the zig-zag on adders.
I’ve made a slightly less demanding version – hopefully without compromising the various design elements of t’original too much.
Hopefully, the pattern will be in an upcoming edition of my favourite UK based knitting magazine – I’ll link (and boast) soon! And as we couldn’t fit the charts for an entire 7 stitch X 7 row alphabet onto the article in a print version, we decided to share them here.
It is quite a challenge, making a recognisable alphabet in an area of only 49 stitches. I did use the embroiderer’s alphabet charts in ‘A Schole-House For The Needle’, pub. by Richard Shorleyker in 1632, available from The Mulberry Dyer as inspiration but as I had even less space for rendering the alphabet than the 17thC book had… it was only inspiration. I like the lovely, clean 17thC letter forms. Although I was forced to keep it simple I did manage a few serifs.
This is a brilliant facsimilie of an embroidery handbook from 1632. There is an incredible story behind it. Let me share. In the 1940s, a schoolboy, John Mason, found a tatty looking ‘book’ at a jumble sale in Shropshire. Years later, the V & A identified it as a book they held a copy of and that was also in the Bodleian Library. The edition found by the little boy was actually more complete than the other two extant books. The Masons have published a facsimilie. Some of the patterns in Shorelyker can be found on surviving silk embroidered costume of the 17thC. It seems it was in a lot of homes – a bit like a 17thC Mrs Beeton.
Shorelyker included both a lower case and an upper case alphabet for embroiderers. These can easily be turned into alphabet charts for knitters.
My Son No 2 took this. He’s got an eye for a good picture, I think.
Rex Harrison’s less attractive brother doing a gig turned down by Roger Moore, probably.
“Look your best…for his sake. For the sake of the laughter and love you share. Look the way he wants you to look. Dress to please his masculine eye. Keep in touch with his kind of fashion…like the tweed-textured suit in the picture.”
I wonder what that book is he’s reading? The Top Gear annual?
Yesterday we made our annual pilgrimage to Masham in the Yorkshire Dales. A whole town turned over to sheep – for a whole weekend! Sheep steeplechasing, dancing sheep, fleece sales…. what’s not to love!
And just like last year, the sun shone down for us. Here you can see the sheep pens covering the market square:
And Morris Men at rest:
And at work:
We saw geese being herded (one escaped):
But this is what I came for. On the hoof…
…And on the fleece sale stall:
Add to that, dancing sheep, a sheep steeplechase, (you can BET on!), craft stalls, plenty of fleece for sale…. you get a grand day out.
I came home with my booty – technically my birthday present from earlier in the week so no guilt involved - some handmade soap, and a black Shetland fleece with incredibly fine, crimpy fibre, and a white Ryeland shearling fleece enough to make a lifetime’s supply of Monmouth caps for the re-enactors in my life.
We rounded off the day at Leyburn and then Aysgarth.