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.