Masham Sheep Fair

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:

Ripon Morris Men
Ripon Morris Men

And at work:

We saw geese being herded (one escaped):

Geese herding
Geese herding

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.

Yore Mills, Aysgarth
Yore Mills, Aysgarth


Desperately Seeking J. Slade.

I’m not sure what it is about graffiti that I love so much.

Here’s some photos we took at Brougham Castle, Cumbria, when we went up to Woolfest.

Graffiti was so stylish in the 19thC....
Graffiti was so stylish in the 19thC....

And what about this?

Did this man do gravestones as a day job?
Did this man do gravestones as a day job?

And rather incredibly, from a sheltered spot, in pencil from almost exactly 110 years ago:

Pencil marks under window lintel
Pencil marks under window lintel

The genealogist in me wants to look for ‘J. Slade’. Could he be the John Slade, born Whitehaven, Cumberland in 1823?  According to the 1881 Census, he was a ship’s carpenter (there’s a bloke who could carve accurately!) Or maybe his brother, James Slade, born Whitehaven, 1829, according to 1871 Census, ‘hosier and draper’..? Surely not their brother, Joseph Slade, born 1825, who according to the 1871 Census, was the rather grandly titled “Superintendent Circulation Dept, General Post Office”..?  Nah.  It’s not the sock selling J Slade or the postal one.  Got to be ship’s carpenter!

These are the J Slades I can find for Cumberland on the IGI for a date that looks about right (mid 19thC) for that graffiti.  Who knows!  I have researched many people – some of whom have had hundreds of acres, even owned entire villages – and not had a monument, gravestone, nothing left behind to say they ever lived.  These olden day Banksies – they have left their mark.

And then there is ‘W. Waterson’.  Again, working on the assumption he is mid 19thC and Cumbrian (and he could be earlier, and from anywhere), the IGI gives us two William Watersons. One born Whitehaven, in 1828. T’other born Carlisle, 1834.  According to the 1851 Census, the first was a coal miner. On the same Census, the second is a ‘Mariner’s son’. In 1841, I found him as a child with his parents and father was also William, and still a mariner, so it is possible the graffiti is his, also.  I can’t find the second William Waterson in subsequent Censuses – could be he follwoed his dad’s trade and went to sea. If my money was anywhere – it would be on the mariner or son.

As for Pencilwoman, Ada Graves, 1899… working on the assumption you might be quite young to want to have a good old vandalise… I looked for Cumbrian Ada Graves assuming it was a maiden name, around the 1870s. I found one in the 1891 and 1901 Censuses, living at Rickergate, Carlisle with her father, William Graves, a stone quarry owner (makes you wonder what her interest was in that pile of old stones, eh!) Ada would have been 21 in 1899, when the graffiti was written. According to the 1901 Census, Ada was born in Lazonby. In the 1891 and 1901 Census she was motherless but in 1881, her father was still in Lazonby, a ‘farmer and stone merchant’ and Ada’s mother, Annie, was still alive. We can’t be sure if she is our lady of the pencil graffiti but it is an intriguing possibility.

The gansey equivalent of carving a name is, of course, this:

Name Writ In Wool

Gansey of Pinknesss tag.
Gansey of Pinkness's 'tag'.

Re. leaving a mark…

This weekend we spent Saturday at Haworth. (Or ‘Bronte Land’ to give it its Tourist Board title).  My eldest suggested we should sex up the Brontes by making a video game (“How Many Siblings Can You Infect With TB Before Dying Yourself….”)  Can you tell he has a lot of siblings?

I never get bored of that little house, and the fascinating (to me) exhibits which some prat in the early 20thC described as a heap of ‘junk’. But in a sense the Brontes are amongst the early ‘clebs’ of Eng Lit.  Byron woke up to find himself famous, the day after he published ‘Childe Harold’.  They didn’t wake up to find themselves anything much, except for Charlotte, who outlived them all and did live long enough to realise her fame.

I never get bored of Haworth, never will. We went quite late in the afternoon, on impulse (we had meant to go to Wetherby but for some reason decided to detour to Haworth instead).  The old West Riding has a grim sort of grandeur. I have no pics for you as we go so often we forgot the camera.

The 9 year old was deeply impressed by the current exhibition about Branwell,  ‘Sex, Drugs and Literature’ – that made him think literature may even be a little bit cool. Well done, Branwell, mate.   I have always felt an affinity for poor Branwell.  Not just because of his spectacular failure in life (going to London to sign up at the Royal Academy but getting sidetracked in Holborn by sawdust n spit pubs, bare knuckle fighting, boozing, and betting always seemed perfectly understandable to me). But also as he died on Sunday Sept 24th, 1848. And I was born on a Sunday September 24th. Although not quite 1848. I have been distracted myself  by similar before now. It is easily done.

Branwell was also up in Cumbria for a time and I have chased his putative offspring in the 1841 Census which was interesting. It is an annoying fact of life that anyone you really want to track down in the 19thC will ONLY be on the 1841 Census (or miss being on it by a week). And that is the rubbish census that just tells you if they’re born in county, Y or N.

Sunk Island

I had to keep this quiet, til it ‘came out’, so – at last – I can put it up here!   I’m reliably informed it is in the current ‘Yarn Forward’ (No 18).  Although I won’t see it for myself til I get down the shops tomorrow or Weds.

For some time, on Ravelry this gansey was pictureless (although we toyed with pixellating a photo!) and called ‘The Mysterious Gansey of Mystery’.  A v.2 came out, and that became ‘The Even More Mysterious Gansey of Mystery’.  Now both can be given their real name, Sunk Island.

Sunk Island Vs. 1 and 2
Sunk Island Vs. 1 and 2

As you see, the difference is in the arms.  V1 I favoured my usual band of pattern at elbow, bi-sected by the coninuous rope run down from neck.  This latetr is more a Scottish feature than a Yorkshire one, but is my favourite way of finishing a shoulder. I do a cast on provisionally, and work down.  I took it to it’s logical destination, this time, continuing even through the wrist ribbing.  But…  in V.1 I was unhappy with the pattern – it seemed fussy and lacked unity. So…  v.2. Sometimes simpler is better.

V.1 uses Winghams gansey 5 ply; v2 Frangipani.

I named it Sunk Island after the place on the Humber Estuary, close by where one  line of ancestors came from. Sunk Island was reclaimed from the sea, it seems, in the 19thC. I felt I reclaimed this piece of my own family history, so it was apt.  There are also already a plethora of ‘Patrington’ ganseys out there anyway!  A couple of gansey books open with a Patrington, but few stay to linger around the inland ganseys, heading straight out to sea to play with the coastal ones.

My grt, grt, grt grt grandfather was William Richardson, who was a Keyingham born (Humber Estuary) fisherman. Sometime in the 1840s he moved further inland to Wistow, and remained a fisherman on the River Ouse.  There have been some huge salmon hauls in the past, at the right time of year.  I have speculated that the weird way I knit may well come from my Humber estuary ancestors.

In the 1851 Census, then in Ottringham, William gave Keyingham as his birthplace.  At his marriage in Wistow in 1828, he said he was ‘of Patrington’.  I am still trying to figure out whether he was the same William Richardson baptised at nearby Hedon in 1794, as this would roughly tally with his reported age on the censuses. Yet I can’t pin him down for sure. Yet.

William’s wife was Ann Ablett, who lived in Ottringham.  William and Ann had two illegitimate daughters, one of whom, Rose, born in 1825, was my grt grt grt grandmother.    Rose Ann (as she seems to have called herself) married farmer Joseph Golton in Wistow in 1848.  And so my direct line passes back to farmers not fishermen.

The Humber Star is the most famous of the inland gansey patterns.  It’s big and bold but it has its challenges in terms of design. The trasitional pattern (waves) was a bit of serendipity as I have used it before on sleeves but never on the body of a gansey. It was very characteristic of inland ganseys though and the unintentional effect is of stars over waves – in this case, the waves of the tidal river.


Take the pattern repeats, for example. You can’t break them. You couldn’t have half a star. And it’s a big old repeat, a fair few rows.  I looked at old photos etc and decided to go for the (apparently) standard 2 repeats. One would be too shallow. Three too deep.  But then, sizing it up and down from the original 28″ version… For the largest size, I couldn’t add a repeat. For a tiny size, I only had the option of a shorter section of plain, beneath. At the same time, I wanted to keep the transitional pattern (zig zags), between the plain section and the stars as this seems to me to be a key design element specifically in the inland ganseys.

I fast started to realise it would have been far easier to work with an allover vertical pattern!  Trouble with the inland ones is – they appear to be more often than not, an horizontal banded pattern  and plain for the first third.

Knitting one lone Humber star gansey would have presented no problems. The difficulty came in having to size it up and down, bearing in mind that everything had to stay proportional in every other direction – so, in a bigger version, the pattern would start higher up the body, but the armhole depth might be elsewhere…  Etc ad infinitum! I ahd to take standardised measurements for the different sizes, and alter each size accordingly, whilst still having this constant depth of pattern at the top. Easier said than done!  With vertical pattern panels, you can just add a pattern panel on either side, make sure you have everything centred – and away you go. This proved a bit more of a puzzle and I keep everything crossed, I cracked it.  The sizes as shown are 28″ and 30″.  The smaller was v.1.

I decided to make the pattern adaptable with a section of moss either side. And used the double rope … which I have never done before – Aaron over at ‘A Fisherman Knits’ recommended I separate then with a couple of purl stitches as I wasn’t sure whether to go with purls or moss st.  Good advice, as it worked. I wanted the double ropes to ‘pop’ out, and frame the more figurative stars, almost like a picture frame but to have nothing noticeable going on between the 2 ropes.

I looked at the Patrington patterns in Gladys Thompson’s classic gansey book, also Michael Pearson’s Traditional Knitting.  I don’t understand why this is out of print, as it is a book treasured by those lucky enough to have it. It is the only book with a section on the inland ganseys. I took it as my starting point.

But I also incorporated elements of design not found in Yorkshire ganseys so much – most obviously, the shoulder knitted down sideways. I decided not to mirror ropes, but to stick with the tradition of knitting them all the same orientation. And I upped the needle size from my preferred 2.5mm to a 2.75mm which would not please the purists but I felt made the pattern more accessible. I stuck with the traditional 2 X 2 rib, and the entire construction techniques were the usual gansey suspects – knit in the round, seam stitches, udnerarm gussets, initials knitted in.  So no compromise and anyone who makes this as a ‘first’ gansey will have had a go at every single technique they might conceivably need.

With a dearth of info re. the inland ganseys, I decided to at least set them in the context of the coastal – to define what they wre not as well as what they were. Research-wise, I had already had a head start, visiting the gansey exhibition at Robin Hood’s Bay last year, held in a small church with sheep grazing between the gravestones – unusual in that the vicar got bored of it and locked it up at some point in the mid 19thC, leaving it like a little time capsule, unlocked in the 20thC. Amongst the ganseys, we were distracted by these ghostly garlands, like something from Hardy’s ‘Tess of the d’Urbrvilles’.  All the vegetal dyed colours faded except for one spectacular blue ribbon, that had to be dyed with woad or indigo.  Reminded me of the woad dyed mitten I once lost under a metre deep Colorado snow drift. Found it in the spring, itnact and the colour unaffected.  Down the week I will put up some of our old gansey photos, to show their only slightly faded blue glory.

Ribbons, from May garland of mid 19thC left in RHB church
Ribbons, from May garland of mid 19thC left in RHB church

We added to this Whitby Museum which has only the odd Sutcliffe photo – and several ganseys on display and the rather more useful Filey Museum, where I studied the beautiful largely unpublished I think, photos of Walter Fisher who deserves to be up there with Sutcliffe as a photographer:

Photo by Walter Fisher, Filey Museum
Photo by Walter Fisher, Filey Museum

And, my personal favourite:

Walter Fisher Colelction , Filey Museum
Walter Fisher Collection , Filey Museum

I began to sense the stark austerity of the inland ganseys – and maybe a different influence at work. And I thought of John Wesley, around the 1790s, making his voyage up the Ouse, preaching along the way at riversides, in farmhouses, etc, and wondered if there isn’t some of that influence, as the ganseys were working their way from the coast inland, around the same date, in all probability.

I was given permission by the lovely and generous Polperro Press,  to use some of the earlier known (1850) gansey images – the Polperro photos of Lewis Harding.  Although a world away from Yorkshire, all ganseys share some common characteristics and I felt very privileged to be allowed to share some of Lewis Harding’s famous images:

Panel of Lewis Hardings Photos, Polperro, 1850
Panel of Lewis Harding's Photos, Polperro, 1850

Sunk Island came together quickly as a design, but we had spent months looking at old coastal ganseys – and maybe something coalesced, slowly, during all that time without me consciously realising it.  I like to think my Humber Estuary fisherman’s wife, Ann Ablett Richardson, brought a Humber Star gansey or two along the Ouse, when she came here.  And the pattern lay waiting for me, somehow, to find it again.

British Brick Walls

Just a little taste of what’s in this month’s Family Tree Magazine (Oct, 2009). For the genealogists. It’s about me living a mile as crow flies from where these ancestors lived, but someone 5000 miles away finding out more info than me…

Family Tree October 2009
Family Tree October 2009
I had two relatives marry eachother (relatives of me not of eachother, keep up!) in the early 19thC and emigrated to the US in 1830. Because their sons went on to found a town (Roodhouse, Illinois), they are very well documented.  I descend from the sister of each – and my lot stayed right here.  They left a better paper trail than we did, as they were busy founding towns we were busy farming…
Do go out and buy one. It’s a nice magazine, though I say it myself.
You can find a bit more possibly somewhere on our site:
Although that concerns more the relatives of the relatives. If you get me.

Turning Off The Monks

Don;t Worry - No 5 is Just Acting
Don't Worry - No 5 is Just Acting

We spent the weekend being medieval people at Bolton Castle in a place up in the Dales called… Castle Bolton.  Well, me and Nos 2 and 3 did.  No 5 and dad came up to visit on Sunday and luckily 5 came resplendent in his 15thC kit. As you can see, he enjoyed some medieval experiences.

No Ramsey in sight - not a ktichen nightmare
No Ramsey in sight - not a kitchen nightmare

There was amazing food – not just the usual re-enactor rustic bread n cheese n pottage – but game (hare and pigeons), and I think they got through about 10 chickens – loads of other stuff.  And apple pies, which most impressed my boys. No 3 is big on pie. He’s at that age.

I have so few photos, recently we realised I have had about as many pics taken of me as the Yeti.  Although his are more flattering.  The present Viscount took to remedying this, with an impromtu photoshoot as I had to produce a photo of self fast for something.  Of all the shots the present Viscount took, only one was almost usable. I looked like a female impersonator in every single other one….

Back to the Castle.

We could choose wherever we wanted to sleep, Sat night. Me and Children 2 & 3 slept in the Nursery, where Mary Queen of Scots’ ladies in waiting were put when she was imprisoned there.  Spooky as all hel. I think I slept maybe one hour. And once my head was in that sleeping bag, I wasn’t going to open my eyes or look out til dawn, let me tell you…

The group we were with have stayed there several times a year, for 15 years or so and almost everyone has seen or experienced something. That’s why most of them sleep on the floor of the medieval kitchen, in a big gaggle. But we had decided to take a room.

One story we heard was, they have a tape of monks chanting they play into the chapel in the day.  Someone who was there overnight, asked the women who work there the next day why they’d forgotten to ‘turn off the monks’. They had heard them singing in the middle of the night.  Only to be told they hadn’t forgotten and they definitely had turned off the monks.

Apparently, they have had big burly workmen, sent upstairs to fix something in the chamber where Mary Q of S stayed, come racing down the stairs and abandon their tools, vowing never to return or go back up to finish the job. In broad daylight. Also, a couple of weeks ago, one of the re-enactors saw an orb in borad daylight. Not a bit of dust in a photo but saw it with his naked eye.  Apparently they got loads of photos a couple of weeks back, too.

We’d already done our Yvette Fielding/Derek Acorah thing, in the chapel, which was just next to the room where we slept. Part of the castle is intact, and part – including the chapel – a ruin.  Anyway, on our way up to bed, leaving No 2 to continue dancing on the table singing Julie Andrews songs in the style of a Klingon, No 3 and I decided to do a Derek and Yvette re-enactment and stepped into the now utterly dark, deserted and 2am chapel. Or rather being the intrepid (stupid) one, I stepped in as No 3 waivered in the doorway.

The Chapel
The Chapel

“Listen, 3, I can hear ticking….”

“No you can’t mum, don’t be ridiculous”.

Looked a bit scared but he followed me in.

The sound promptly got louder. It had sounded like ticking (no clock on any of the towers) but now… sounded like footsteps, someone running, hard, on either the courtyard below on the other, (walled in, inaccesible) side of the chapel. .. And they were getting nearer.

You can imagine how fast we ran out of there. Like Shaggy and Scooby, if you’d seen us the legs would have been windmilling round furiously.


A while later No 2 came to bed  and I decided to say nothing.  In the middle of the night (by now I was wide awake with a crashing migraine), No 2 sat bolt upright and clutched me:

“Mum, I’m terrified!”

He could just hear the others in the adjoining room coming and going to the loo. You could hear the camp beds creaking after the massive oak door opened/shut. So I knew it was nothing ‘phantom’. I reassured him, again not mentioning what No 3 and I had heard.

So passed a night of terror enlivened only by migraine so severe that 2 Migraleves did nothing to touch it.

2009 918
View From Our Window

In the morning, No 3 and I made a beeline back to the chapel. A bright, sunny September morning, clear sky. No longer scary. And we heard rooks.  They were making a sound exactly like that ticking…

“But that still doesn’t explain the footsteps.” I said to him.  “And remember, they were getting nearer to us even after we started running”.  They had. As we stood at the huge oak door, trying to open it quietly so as not to wake the others,  we’d heard it get nearer. Like it was following us.

Later, me and No 2 went right up the tower. I’d been so busy flat out all day demonstrating spinning on the Great Wheel to the public, and teaching lovely E., current Viscount’s colleague, to spin. But everyone told us we should see the tower.  And high, high above Wensleydale, early in the Sunday morning, we felt so privileged to wake up in this special, beautiful place. There was the flag, cracking in the wind.  It sounded – just like running footsteps. On a hard floor.

Offspring 2 on Guard Duty. None Shall Pass (without pie).
Offspring 2 on Guard Duty. None Shall Pass (without pie).

I think you know the moral of the story without me spelling it out, Gentle Reader.