ganseys History Knitting

Racehorse at Deptford


Sloop crew. Photo courtesy of Inland Waterways Museum


Back up to Whitby this weekend.  I wanted to take one last look at the stockings, hat and mittens on display at The Captain Cook Memorial Museum, before they return to Gdansk, at the end of this month.

I wanted to take a close look (through the display case!) and take some notes, for my research on the history of Yorkshire knitting.  The three items on display from the wreck of The General Carleton, are a pair of stockings, an interesting thrummed cap, and a pair of mittens.  The mittens were recognisably Latvian (I knew from having spent a frightening amount of the 1980s glued to Shelagh Hollingworth’s ‘Scandinavian Knitting’). The other two items I feel are Yorkshire.

I documented everything I could,  paying especial interest to the stockings as they seem to be like the ones I was researching being knit by the charity school girls in York, in the 1780s and 90s. Will be sharing that research in the coming months.

Also on display, a letter from Capt. Phipps dated 10th May, 1773, listing the clothing requested for a crew of a similar ship to the General Carleton. I should say, ‘Fearnought’ jackets are made from a fulled, woven wool and probably like the one pictured here, from the wreck of the General Carleton.

Again, mention of knitted items but no mention of a gansey or anything we could interpret as such.  In 1773, Racehorse attempted an expedition to the North Pole, so this is detailing clothing from the most extreme conditions imaginable.  Capt. Phipps took both Racehorse and Carcass to esplore the North-West Passage  in 1773 – Horatio Nelson was midshipman on the Carcass, and it was on this expedition he had his famous brawl with a polar bear. There’s a vivid account of this voyage here.

Navy Office

1oth May, 1773


Having received Directions for the Right Honble [sic] the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty to furnish the undermentioned Extra Necessaries for the crews of His Majesty’s sloops Racehorse and Carcass, viz: –

Flannel jackets two for each Man

Cotton shirts

Cotton Handkerchiefs

Fearnought Jackets, Lined – Two

Kersey Inside Waistcoats lined – Two

Milled Yarn Caps – Two

Boots – One Pair

Boot  Stockings – Two pair

Fearnought Trowsers – Two Pair

Mittings [sic] One Dozen Pair each Man

We desire you will please to let us know what Numbers of Men are to be furnished therewith

And are

Your Humble Servants

H Palliser

Williams [sic]

Geo. Marsh

Hon’ble Captain Phipps

Racehorse at Deptford.

(From the Mulgrave Archives,  letter loaned to exhibition by Lord Normanby)


Racehorse and Carcass

2 replies on “Racehorse at Deptford”

Hi Freyalyn! You know, I was too busy with the stockings to look too closely at the gloves! So I bet you’re right if that’s your observation! I was cursing the fact the stockings were at the back and what I couldn’t see were the decreases/increases, but clocked as much as I could! Tell you what – the stockings had a very interesting ribbed section I did spot – extremely erratic. The hat seemed to have a couple of rounds purl at the start, which I’d guess was due to the thrums?

I think the ‘milled’ hats will refer to the finishing – fulling – so they could be like the rough ‘bump hats’ mentioned in ‘Old Handknitters of the Dales’ – knit huge and fulled down? In his book, Stephen Baines mentions the knitted caps usually being plastered with tar. (That’s on top of being fulled!) I do think the ‘milled’ refers more to fulling than to the yarn being millspun – but as you say, at this date they’d be quite likely to be millspun.

The stockings looked handspun to me – as did the hat. Stockings very fine (I reckon the cast on was somewhere around 140 st?)


Yep, I made a note of this letter too – fascinating to find all items so well described yet nary a mention of sweaters or ganseys. I love that there seems to be an expectation that mittens will be lost!

I had very close look at the mittens in the case (my noseprint may still be on the glass) and wondered that perhaps there was a twined cast on and perhaps the first row or two.

Do you think the ‘milled yarn caps’ refers to fulling of the knitted caps, or that they were knitted from mill-spun yarn? If the latter, would that imply that other items were handspun. Too late for that, I’d have thought.


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