The Silver Knitting Sheath

Fancy Sheath from Dales Countryside Museum. Photo Credit: Belinda May

Wondering about the discussion elsewhere re. fancy sheaths, I had a quick trawl of the 19thC Newspapers archive from the British Library.

And I found this, for Darlington (Teeside, bit further North of Yorkshire) about an agricultural show and its prize categories, several times in the 1870s:

Middleton-in-Teesdale Floral, Horticultural, and Industrial Society held its fifteenth annual exhibition on Saturday afternoon….

One category is

Ornamental Knitting Stick

The winner was Thos. Anderson of Harwood.

That ‘ornamental’ suggests some indeed were just made for show.

Meanwhile, The Sheffield and Rotherham Independent, Nov 1871, describes a Hospital Bazaar at Rotherham (South Yorkshire) where offered for prizes are “German silver knitting sheaths”.

Only ten years later, in 1881, London’s Morning Post describes a meeting of the British Archaeological Society, where members were producing Byzantine coins, bits of Neolithic flint, etc:

… Mr Ferguson, F.S.A., produced a large collection of knitting sheaths from the Wigton district, Cumberland. These archaic-looking instruments were much commented on, and the chairman pointed out the resemblance of sum of the form of knife on the mithraic scultpure at Newcastle; while Mr. G. Wright., F.S.A., drew attention to their analogy to the Persian creases….

These sheaths sound workaday and probably wooden. Clearly what the academics thought as crazy curiosities were still in use though, as finally, an ad from 4.1.1888’s London ‘Morning Post’:

LOST , on Saturday, between Seymour-place, Bryanstone-square and Sloane-street, an Old silver KNITTING SHEATH. Whoever returns it to Humphries, 52 Seymour Place will be REWARDED

What’s interesting about this is it’s 7 years AFTER the archaeologists have already decided sheaths are ‘archaic’ and also – the fact it’s silver and owned by someone wealthy enough to live near Sloane St – means it’s probably been used as an everyday thing, despite the fact it’s silver (bearing in mind people at this date still willed silver teaspoons to eachother, and/or got hard labour for stealing comparatively small bits of silver!)

Ah just gone to check on FindMyPast as you can search the census by street names alone. This Seymour Place is in Marylebone. In 1881 no 52 is occupied by Robert and Mary Ann Humphris sic, ages 40 and 38, born in Plymouth, Devon and London respectively. And Robert is….. “Silversmith employing 3 Men and 2 Boys”. They live with a brother in law, nephew and one servant. Assuming you wouldn’t let a servant loose on the streets with a silver knitting sheath, we can probably guess the lady of the house lost it! And Robert Humphries must have made a few silver sheaths (If there were not plate silver they’d be hallmarked and have the London assay mark). Robert Humphries’ mark can be seen here:

http://www.silvermakersmarks.co.uk/Makers/London-RE-RI.html

Just to make life more complex, I just checked 1891 to see if the Humphries were still at 52 Seymour Place.

I found:

Robert Humphries, 49, Silversmith , born Plymouth, Devonshire

and… new wife:

Flora Humphries, 18, born Colchester Essex

They live with a nephew, neice and servant. Free BMD tells me Mary Ann Humphries of the right age, died in Marylebone in the last quarter of 1889. So it looks like Robert was newlywed close to the date of the 1891 Census.

She died within a year of the ad was placed in the Morning Post – so it must have been Mary Ann, not Flora, who lost the silver sheath!  Given Mary Ann’s address and status, the inference is fancy sheahs were not only treasured – but used (notice it’s ‘old’) and also, better still, puts paid to the idea that sheaths were seen as somehow ‘lower class’ and not be used in public by middle class women…

A Robert Humphries married Flora Gillies in Marylebone district, in the last quarter of 1890.

You’ll be relieved to know, that’s my sleuthing done for today!

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3 thoughts on “The Silver Knitting Sheath

  1. “Meanwhile, The Sheffield and Rotherham Independent, Nov 1871, describes a Hospital Bazaar at Rotherham (South Yorkshire) where offered for prizes are “German silver knitting sheaths”.

    German Silver is an alloy known in this area as whitemetal. A lot of it was produced in Birmingham from the middle of the 19th Century. I am pretty certain that these are knitting needle end protectors as they come in a pair with a chain or cord between, They are or were called sheaths around here. There is no tradition of sheath knitting in this area of Yorkshire that I have ever been able to find.

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    1. Thanks, Chris. That is helpful to know. I’m researching the inland mariners on the Humber/Ouse and there’s no evidence for them using them, either way but if I’m honest, I’ve worked on an assumption they probably used sheaths. (I have a picture of a lady on a Humber keel or sloop knitting, but the original is too indistinct for me to see a sheath). It’s likely if they used them here along the Ouse, they may well have used them at least along the waterways in Sth Yorkshire. But we need to find evidence! One point of this blog is that people like you with expertise on the ground will come forward and add info – so that’s really great! I have no evidence either, though at the moment. I was hoping to chat with someone at the Castle Museum soon, so maybe let’s see if they have provenances for the Yorkshire sheaths they have and we’ll see if any come from South Yorks or the Humber/Ouse? Will update this when I find anything.

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