“Mrs Jackson of York”

This month, I have followed in the footsteps of the mysterious “Mrs Jackson of York”, an 1840s’ knitting manual writer, about whom very little was previously known. With the help of one of Elizabeth’s descendants, I was able to uncover a fascinating story of an astute businesswoman, whose life encompassed both York and St Petersburg, and whose story collided with that of the doyenne of knitting writers, Edinburgh’s Jane Gaugain.

Jane Alison married London merchant, J.J.Gaugain around 1823, started publishing in the 1830s, and went on to become one of the most prolific writers of knitting manuals. Her books were not cheap at over five shillings, (the same price as Dickens’ 1840s’ novels)  but their success can be gauged by this ad:

“Mrs G’s Works may be had of all Booksellers”.

For the Gaugains, business might have been booming, but their marriage was unhappy. They were eventually to live apart. Maybe J.J was getting itchy feet as early as the mid 1830s – he was already expanding his woolly empire South of the border in the summer of 1836:

Berlin Stitching Patterns

Mr Gaugain, Importer of German Patterns, Wools, &c, in EDINBURGH, has established  a Branch Warehouse in YORK, under the management of Mrs Gaugain’s Sister…

Saloon, 14, CONEY STREET.

In 1838, J.J.Gaugain decided to de-camp back to Edinburgh and the owner of the neighbouring shop, goldsmith Edward Jackson took over the wool warehouse. In the 1820s, No 14 Coney St had been an exhibition room, sometimes used for freak shows.  The shop rapidly became his wife, Elizabeth’s enterprise although she faced competition from J.J.Gaugain’s sister in law, Catherine Currie, who started her own Berlin Wool Shop on the same street.

‘Mr Gaugain’s Berlin Wool Depot’  became  ‘The Berlin Rooms’.  Within a couple more years, the former freak show exhibition hall was now the first in a chain of shops run by Edward’s wife Elizabeth, and she was on her way to becoming known all over Britain as “Mrs Jackson of York”, writer of “The Practical Companion to the Work-Table”…

For more about Jane Gaugain and Elizabeth Jackson, check out ‘Yarnwise’  No.52, on sale now.


4 replies on ““Mrs Jackson of York””

I have been following Jane Gaugain’s trail on and off for 20 years because I was a curator of clothing and textiles in Scotland. Sorting her family out has been complicated so I was interested to know of her sister. As there is no publication suitable for a more academic article on embroidery, knitting etc.,I eventually wrote a piece last year for a Pieecwork special publication:
‘Britain’s Mrs Jane Gaugain: Beyond the Knitting Books’, in Knitting Traditions, Fall 2011, special issue published by Piecework Magazine, pp.13-15.
It was edited down so that the genealogy got rather truncated.

My interest is in genealogy as well as clothing and textiles and my main work at present is on Scottish samplers, a rich source for family historians, with a book to be published, I hope, in late 2013.

I’m not a practising knitter so I don’t have access to Yarnwise. Is it possible to get single copies?


Hi Naomi, I read and enjoyed your article in “Knitting Traditions”!

I don’t have Scotland’s People, and haven’t double checked the Catherine Currie info, yet but at some point will….but she is described by JJ as his wife’s sister. I was helped massively in my genealogical research by a descendant of Elizabeth Jackson, Marina… If there are Gaugain descendants on Ancestry, they would be great contacts for you. I have an Elizabeth Jackson article and pattern coming out in Knitting Traditions very soon. Hopefully, they will complement your piece!

Either way, it is interesting to see that around the time it appears the Gaugains’ marriage was in trouble, JJ pops up in York. Edinburgh – York would have been a straightforward journey on the stagecoaches: I wonder if Jane knew York as well? I can’t help feeling that Elizabeth Jackson must have been selling Jane’s books in the York shop after they took it over from JJ, and realised they were selling like hot-cakes, so brought out her own… Unlike Jane, she seems to have left it at the one knitting manual.

I’d be fascinated to read more about your researches into the Gaugains. I traced a bit about the Edinburgh end via ads in the Nineteenth Century newspapers. It is an interesting pattern that men with presumably fairly wealthy backgrounds, like JJ and Edward Jackson realised the potential of selling Berlin wools, but the women like Jane and Elizabeth, were the ones who ran with it and turned the businesses into such thriving concerns! We are always spun this yarn about Victorian women being in the background and not active in business, or even pro-active in life. But these women are telling us a different story.


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