Propagansey 2010 – every one tells a story

Gansey of Pinkness Came Too!

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.

View from churchyard, old St. Stephen's, RHB

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]

Victorian May Day Garlands, old St Stephen's, RHB

Deb had the brilliant idea of displaying the ganseys so they looked like they were ‘going to church’:

Propagansey 2010
Propagansey 2010

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….”

First gansey knitted by Denise Newey

There is also Denise’s poignant note on why this gansey was her final one:

Denise Newey's final gansey

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!)

Very refined pattern
And Another...
Cream masks pattern
More extreme gorgeousness

And check out the sleeve on this one – something really special, I thought:

Beautiful sleeve

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:

"Now let's go to the beach, mum!"

But of course, Nate being Nate (he edits people out of photos but likes to keep in animals), we got this beauty:

This hand-spinner came too...

And, in old St Stephen’s graveyard, a reminder of just who made all this gansey fun possible in the first place:

Peggy the sheep. "Oi, you, getta outta my churchyard!"

Knitting Ancestors

Now look what I’ve gone and done….
Family Tree Magazine, October, 2010

In this month’s ‘Family Tree’ magazine (October issue), an article about tracing your knitting ancestors.

If you have any ancestry in a fishing port, or along the rivers and canals and inland waterways of the UK… this may be for you!

I took a stroll (metaphorically) through the Dales village of Hawes,  (and the Cornish village of Polperro) on the night of the 1841 Census. And there I found ‘knitters’, ‘fancy knitters’, ‘hand knitters’ and ‘knitsters’. And this soul, in Aysgarth:

“Jane Asbridge, 70, Knitting Stockings”

Yore Mills, Aysgarth

Censuses were done of a Sunday evening. I could imagine the Enumerator knocking on the door and Jane coming to answer with her knitting in her hand (easier to carry it with you if you have a sheath tucked in your belt and maybe a clue holder about your person too!)

Hopefully, in the article, I’ve given a few pointers as to finding your knitting ancestors.

I have only one known ancestor who is actually listed by a Census enumerator as a knitter. She was my first cousin 3 times removed, Lillian Stephenson who was 12 in 1891 and down on the Shipley census as ‘Stocking Knitter’. Lillian lived with her Westmorland-born grandfather, a carpenter – and hosiery knitting was strong in Westmorland, so I’d imagine that was how a little girl growing up in Shipley, Yorkshire,  at the end of the 19thC was hand knitting so actively she had it listed as her job!

Dales stockings from Dales Countryside Museum, Hawes

More Myth-busting. "I See No Ganseys!"

“The Yorkshire Mary Rose”

The Grand Turk, Whitby
The Grand Turk, Whitby

Few scholars, costume historians or keen students of knitting history seriously believe for a minute that ganseys (or any knitted jumpers for seamen) existed prior to the back end of the 18thC.  But the myth does get promulgated, occasionally on places like ‘Ravelry’,  and neophytes may get taken in. And I like to think of myself as a kind of iconoclast. Sacred cows are for exploding. Let’s do some more…

Apparently, the “reason” we have no earlier evidence of mariner ganseys is due to the slop chests – even of abandoned ships – being plundered. Clothes were valuable, etc etc. Plus, of course, the conditions on a sunken vessel are not conducive to textile preservation, archaeologically speaking.  Sounds logical, right?

Until you’ve heard of The General Carleton.

A couple of months ago, we visited the Captain Cook Memorial  Museum in Whitby. By some total fluke – ’twas an impulse visit – there, on the top floor, was a temporary exhibition. And in that exhibition were… some knitted artefacts from a vessel, The General Carleton of Whitby, which sank in the port at Gdansk, Poland, in 1785. They are on temporary display at the Captain Cook Memorial Museum – and well worth a visit before they return to Poland!

The General Carleton artefacts can normally be found at the Polish Maritime Museum.

We couldn’t photo the artefacts for yous with no permissions in place – but look out for a future ‘Knitting Genealogist’ article in ‘Yarn Forward’, where we hope to share some with you, if we can get the permissions we need!

You can see pics of some of the hat and serge jacket here:

The story of The General Carleton and the rescue archaeology that brought the Yorkshire ship’s artefacts to the Polish Maritime Museum is best told on his website, or in his book “The Yorkshire Mary Rose”,  by Yorkshire born and bred writer, Stephen Baines.

Mr Baines’ ancestors were Whitby mariners in the 18thC and 19thC –  who better to tell the story!

Suffice to say here, the ship’s contents (around 775 artefacts) were saved by a weird and wonderful chance.  The day it sank, The General Carleton had a cargo of pine tar, which mixed with the Baltic seawater and sand, formed a matrix which acted as a protective barrier, preserving even the contents of maybe 9 or 10 slop chests.

Aboard the vessel were the Captain, William Hustler; John Pearson, carpenter; John Swan, second mate; 6 new seamen – Nicholas Theaker;  George Taylor;  John Purvis; Andrew Gibson; Andrew Noble and Thomas Edes; and the apprentices, James Hart, John Thompson, John Noble, John Fraiser, Richard Neale, John Johnson and Richard Trueman.  Only Hustler and Theaker perished during the storm – local tradition has it that the other mariners made it to shore.

Several of the knitted artefacts (excavated in 1995 and previously only on display in Gdansk), are on loan to the Captain Cook Memorial Museum. These include stockings, mittens, gloves and, most glorious of all, a colourwork thrummed cap.

Amongst the retrieved body of artefacts are gloves, mittens, stockings, waistcoats, sailors’ serge jackets, shoes, – basically almost the entire and intact contents of the crew’s slop chests.  Some of the items look to be traded – most obviously, some very Latvian style mittens.  Others – notably the stockings, and the beautiful Shetland patterned hat with a thrummed border, look to be Yorkshire knit. The hat is a natural white, with orangey and browny/green forming the patterns. I suspect it is locally knit because I have found an image of ‘whalebone scrapers’ in the 1814 ‘Costume of Yorkshire’ (George Walker), which are almost identical – white knitted caps, patterned with bright orange and green.  The repro pattern has a tension of 20 st to 10cm.  I will try and get up there to study and document it accurately before it leaves Yorkshire, but Appendix 4 of Stephen’s lovely book, ‘The Yorkshire Mary Rose’ has a pattern already worked out for a repro of the hat – which no doubt is accurate!

There is a photo in Stephen Baines’ book of some of the clothing, as it was excavated, still neatly folded with a felt hat on top – exactly as it was left in the slop chest (which must have rotted away from around it).

Mr. Baines writes:

“A sailor’s most valuable possessions were his clothes, which might include a jacket or two, a waistcoat or two, three shirts, a pair of trousers and a pair of breeches, two pairs of drawers, two or three pairs of stockings, two pairs of shoes, a couple of handkerchiefs, a pair of mittens, a hat and a cap….  The surviving clothes were all from the stern section of the ship, and so are likely to have comprised the contents of the sea-chests of the master, mate, and the servants – possibly the carpenter – in all nine or ten people…”

From “The Yorkshire Mary Rose”, Stephen Baines,  Blackthorn Press, 2010

This book is a cracking read, and has good images of some of the knitted artefacts.

The sailors were of course, wearing clothes when the ship went down (most – but not all –  hands survived) and so, given the fairly liberal amounts of clothing found on the wreck, from this we can imagine they were pretty well provided with clothing.  Do I need to add – there is not a shred or trace of a gansey or anything that could be a fragment of one?  And I doubt pine tar discriminates.  There is a serge jacket in a remarkable state of preservation – as are the knitted items currently on display at Whitby.

So there we have it. A perfect time capsule of a Yorkshire vessel with a named crew (the original muster rolls for every voyage survive) out of a Yorkshire port in the 1780s – no ganseys. Only woven waistcoats, and woven jackets. 15 jackets/jacket parts survive  and 27 stockings/stocking parts. [Pg 67]. Mr Baines remarks that less than half of the extant stockings were machine knitted. Looking at Whitby businesses of the time, and extant clothiers’ records,  he concludes the mariners’ clothing was probably a complex mix of shop bought, commercially made clothing and home-made.

Experienced sailors would buy their clothing from specialist slop-shops that could be found near docks in most ports. Young mentions that in 1816 Whitby had six slop-shops and there would certainly be some in 1777, with the proprietors of such establishments appearing in the parish records as shop keepers…

I stumbled on this exhibition the very week I’d been at York Reference Library, researching the York charity schools – hotbed of stocking knitting in 1780s’ Yorkshire.  So very odd to have held Catharine Cappe’s 1799 book in my actual hands and then, within days, see some actual 1780s’ Yorkshire stockings!  The hat is what really grabbed me, though.  Look out for a future ‘Knitting Genealogist’  feature in ‘Yarn Forward’ – I’ll try and share it with yous!