“Why Sir, In the days of George the First…”


This morning I had to wait in for A Man. So, to pass the time,  I looked up the words “knitted jacket” in the 18thC newspapers. As you do.

By the time the Man’s long-awaited plumbing visit happened,  it was more a ‘Person From Porlock’ *  incident,  as I was so engrossed in the knitted wardrobe of the 18thC dandy, that I didn’t want to be interrupted about something so mundane as my hot water not coming out hot.

(I’m assuming ‘Mr. Woodfall’ was the newspaper’s Editor).  And this is not from a real list of the King’s fancy wardrobe,  but was a fictional, silly one).

Morning Chronicle and London Advertiser, Thursday, April 24, 1777

MUCH debate has been had in both Houses of Parliament on the subject of the Civil List expences, and many severe sarcasms have been thrown out on the want of oeconomy observable in the management of the King’s revenue. Good God, Mr. Woodfall, do these demagogues recollect the vast differences in the times? … Why, Sir, in the days of George the First,  few men had more coats than backs,  more w_____ s ** than wives, or more houses than heads; but now there is not a younger brother of a family tolerably rich,  but in order to maintain the honour and dignity of his situation… he thinks it right to have a wardrobe full of cloaths as the best-furnish’d shop in Monmouth-street… Your Readers… may think I am jesting; I beg, Sir, you assure them that I’m perfectly serious, and lay before them the following papers… as vouchers of the Civil List expenditure – My vouchers contain a real catalogue of articles possessed by a young man of fashion, who left the world in a pet, because his income was incompetent to his expences…

…A silk knit frock suit
… A black silk knit frock suit…
…A cashmere waistcoat, a pair of silk knit breeches, and a pair of silk lustring ditto…
…A green silk shag knit frock lined with silk, and green and orange striped shag waistcoat, with green and gold binding…
…A green silk knit coat, bordered with green and gold, striped lace and silk lining…”

The list is obviously satirical. The section entitled ‘Ruffles’ (frilly collars) alone, is massive – and the suits in ‘Wearing Apparel’ goes on and on… I just extracted the knitted items, here, for our delectation.  “A green shag knit frock” would have been thrummed (waste fibre knitted in for a ‘fur’ effect).

One definition of ‘shag’ in this context:

“2. A cloth having a velvet nap on one side, usu. of worsted, but sometimes of silk. Also, a kind or variety of this. 1592.”  [Shorter OED].

Presumably the nap was on the right side of the fabric.  This kind of knit fabric generally only survives in a cruder form – things like the General Carleton hat, and Maine Mittens as well as references to 17thC English sailors’ caps.  (N.B: See a gansey in this woodcut? Thought not).  It’s interesting to think about this high end shagging (if you’ll pardon the expression). With many stitches per inch, and mill ends of presumably silk being worked into many stitches, it must have taken an age to knit such items. And even if none are extant (?) then we know they existed, from references like these.

From the number of knitted silk items in the dandy’s list, it’s probably a reflection of their high status. As we’ve seen with Charles I’s knitted shirt, knitted silk was the real bespoke stuff. Although by the 1770s, it’s come down in the world enough to be worn by showy second sons.

I really should call this post ” The ‘Shag’ and ‘Whores’ One”,  but I’d get a less better class of visitor to the blog…

* Person From Porlock 

** whore


Riposte to “The Knitting Mania”

Illustrating 'The Smoking Mania'?

One woman didn’t stand for the chauvinistic Anonymous’s poem, and gave him a reply with both barrels blazing. Interesting to note, she was not even a knitter, herself. I hope she took up the needles afterwards.

I had a quick look on the 1851 Census for a Katharine/Catherine or Kitty West. No real likely candidates for our woman, here, although it would always be a tough one as she could have got married (presumably not to Mr Anonymous) between 1848 and 1851, or died (possibly a better fate than marrying Mr Anonymous), or be over any one of the county boundaries that border Hampshire, or moved a long way from there. So it was always a long shot.

Presumably, those in the grip of Knitting Mania were too preoccupied to bother to write a reply. Or maybe Katherine simply wrote the best one.


My knitting friends have taken, sir, a great offence, I find
At these remarks addressed to them – they think them most unkind; –
And have requested me to write, immediately, through you,
A short reply to him and all the “anti-knitters” too.

The nobler sex (?) may smoke cigars as often as they please,
And waste their time and money in such low pursuits as these;
And yet the innocent of employ of knitting they condemn,
And women must not work in peace without consulting them.

But while this grumbling brother tries his sisters to deride,
I fancy all the industry exists upon their side –
I don’t suppose he works too much, or else he would not feel
So sadly vex’d and discomposed at their perpetual zeal.

And after all, why does he thus the “knitting mania” blame
Is it that women ought to have a nobler work and aim?
Is it that they should cultivate their minds with ardent care,
And of the wealth of intellect, possess their proper share?

Ah, no! Such blessed truths as these to him are dull and dim;
He murmurs that they do not knit nice comforters for him!
He frets because a button is not always in its place
Oh! selfishness is plainly stamp’d on his  fault-finding face.

I speak with boldness, sir, because I am myself exempt
From this sad knitting which excites our poet’s stern contempt;,
I mention this to prove I am a fitting judge in strife,
And not to recommend myself as his appropriate wife.

His wife! oh no! I’d rather be unmarried all my days,
Or practice knitting til I won all his four sisters’ praise,
Than wed myself with one who deems that woman’s loveliness,
Consists in mending day by day his articles of dress!

Pray, Mr Editor, can you reveal this grumbler’s name?
I have no doubt he kept it back for very fear and shame;
Ladies, whether they knit or not such cowardice detest,
And therefore I subscribe myself, Yours Truly, Katherine West.

Hampshire Advertiser & Salisbury Guardian, Saturday, January 01, 1848

“The Knitting Mania”

In December 1847, Emily Bronte was publishing ‘Wuthering Heights’ – and probably, she was not knitting. That very month, an anonymous gentleman made his own literary offering. I don’t think he was knitting much that month, either…

The Knitting Mania

I really must – it is no use – I must speak out my mind

And wonder how the ladies can delight in knitting find;

Such pointed, pricking, sharp-edged tools, such rolling balls of thread,

Such puzzling over bewildering rules with such bewilder’d head.



My mother and my sisters four are clever in this way,

They knit at morning, noon and night; they knit, in fact, all day;

Their little bags, their pointed pins, are in their fingers ever;

In short, I really do believe, they’ve got the knitting fever.



And, after all, what good results, come from such industry?

It is not comforters, or socks, they ever knit for me;

But pence-jugs, purses, smoking-caps, while over chair and screen

Are knitted clothes of every kind, and newest patterns seen.



We’ve mats for every standing thing, we’ve covers for each dish;

We’ve knitted cloths for bread and cheese, for fruit, and flesh, and fish;

Our rich dessert dish is fill’d up with bobbins starch’d and clean,

We wipe our mouths in d’Oyleys of every pattern seen.



How many a scratch and prick I get! I could not count them all!

How many a time about my feet I get the tangled ball.

And often have I borne away a handsome square of knitting

Which clung unto my buttons from the chair where I’ve been sitting.



Alas! Alas! each stitch of work I now must pay for doing

My sisters they will knit for me, but cannot think of sewing.

No buttons can I get put on; no gloves can I get mended,

All little comforts of my home are now left unattended.



I might get married, certainly – but I’ll not think of this –

I know how much a knitting wife can marr domestic bliss;

There are such things as knitted caps, and robes, and trimmings too,

And many other pretty things the ladies now can do.



No – I  shall wait until I find a wife as wives should be –

Who for all taste of fancy work of every kind is free;

One who will gladly make, and mend, and every duty prize,

Which may increase her loveliness in a fond husband’s eyes.”


Anonymous, Hampshire Advertiser & Salisbury Guardian, Saturday, December 11, 1847