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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!"

9 replies on “Propagansey 2010 – every one tells a story”

For folks’ info;
Look out for Propagansey 2011 some time between Sept 5th-11th. The 11th is Gansey Sunday – Evensong with a definite theme. Gansey wearers are esp. welcome & we generally manage to belt out ‘Will your anchor hold’ & Eternal Father strong to save’, sitting in the box pews surrounded by, as one visitor put it, ‘All them mucky old jumpers laid about.’ Bless.
Ganseys continue to come out of the woodwork .. look out for the Moray Firth Partnership competition to design a new Gansey pattern for the area. Closing date April 4th – get a wiggle on.
btw the hanging bunches of ribbons are Maidens’ Garlands – a funeral tradition for unmarried lasses.


Do you know where I can see Ganseys around this area to get some photos? I am very interested in researching Gansey (especially inland) & traditional Knitting as I’m just going into my final yr at Nottingham Trent Uniiversity (as a mature student in knitwear). Just found an interesting possible printing error in the Gladys Thompson book – there is a pattern titled Caister, Lincolnshire, & I live in North Lincolnshire, about 3 miles from Caistor. Do you know if this is a printing error, as surely this Caister is in Norfolk? Though I thought it might be interesting to devise new patterns!
thanks for your help, Alison


I’ve always assumed that was Caistor in Norfolk. Just gone and looked and she does indeed say Lincs! But in the edition I have, it’s right after the Sheringham ones…. Plus that book went into so many editions, she’d have had plenty of time to correct errata? It’s a notoriously inaccurate book although a classic and great!

Rae Compton mentions Caistor a few times (her book is the definitive one for me!) She is definitely talking about Caistor in Norfolk… so you could have a point! Rae Compton’s photo shows a different gansey to the one in GT – but it has features in common (double cables) which are quite unusual… Maybe someone will come along and clarify for us?

I know an old edition of Rowan Mag had an article about Norfolk ganseys – trouble is I’ll have to go find it! If I can find where I put it will report back!

Inland are hard to find pics. We’re currently looking. Even when you do get a gansey it tends to be on a tiny figure too distant to get much detail! My theory is, because inland were in working places – coastal always had this element of tourism, so you get proper arty photographers like Sutcliffe etc who are doing picturesque portraits of locals in their down time. Goole was never a fashionable resort! So the photos, when they are higher quality, tend to be of the boats rather than the people.

Goole Inland Waterways Museum has some stuff that might interest you!

I saw a nice family photo someone had donated to Beverley’s East Yorkshire Museum, last week. That was a lovely gansey, quite a close up photo and previously unpublished. So they do turn up in various places along the rivers and beyond.


Just love these images of Propergansey! Wish I’d known about it & got to see the gansey’s in person! I am very interested in learning more about Ganseys & especially liked the Yarn Forward article about Sunk Island. I live in N Lincolnshire, so not far away!!


Thanks, Alison! Almost all my ancestors are Yorkshire except for one lot from Westmorland and another from Lincs! My Lincs names include Brumby and Lambert (Corringham area!) Went there for the first time a couple of years back to see the villages where they were from – and it was beautiful! I’ll try and do a heads-up before Propagansey next year (Only found out myself at 1am the night before we went!)


Oh yes please, F. If that’s possible! Could you PM me on Rav? Shout out to any other Yorkshire gansey knitters, too! I’d love to hear from you, about your ganseys – why you like the patterns you like and how you go about knitting, too!


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