History Knitting Leeds local history West Riding

“Our First Long Journey By Ourselves”

knit trad
‘Traditions Today’ email.


I was really excited last week to get my usual ‘Traditions Today’ email from Interweave, because it was trailing my article and  “Mrs Jackson of York“‘s stocking pattern  in the forthcoming  ‘Knitting Traditions, Spring, 2013’.   Available for pre-order now, and should be out at the start of April. I hope those of you who love this nerdy stuff, enjoy reading it half as much as I enjoyed researching and writing.

In June, 1845, Anne and Emily Bronte went on “our first long Journey by ourselves “;  a three-day long excursion to York.  They probably stayed at the George Inn, on Coney Street.  We know Charlotte and Anne stayed there as a staging post on Anne’s final journey, in 1849 – and the Brontes were creatures of habit.  The George Inn was right opposite Elizabeth Jackson’s  Berlin Rooms

DSCF1405York’s other big coaching inn, The Black Swan, was also on Coney St, a few doors down.

I went on the trail of knitters in the Brontes’ novels, was privileged to examine some knitting artefacts at the Bronte Parsonage Museum in Haworth; and have recreated the stocking from Elizabeth Jackson’s  “The Practical Companion to the Work-Table”, which was in its second edition just as Emily and Anne were staying on Coney Street.  From the knitting sticks and the gauge of the needles extant in the Parsonage’s Bonnell Collection, it is clear the Bronte sisters could knit a stocking!

To re-create the 1840s’ stocking, I used Rennies’ Supersoft Lambswool;  the hard-wearing yarn of choice used by many re-enactors and living historians to knit stockings. I used the greasy yarn on cones, but ungreasy wool in balls is also available.  Rennies is spun in Scotland, and the company has been going since 1798. The Brontes were huge fans of all things Scottish, so I felt they’d approve. I knitted my version in a screaming version of bright purple and marzipan – mainly because I have read of knitting folk in the Dales dyeing leftover grey wool with logwood, to make purple stockings for their own families. And yellow from weld was a cheap and readily available dye. Also, Emily famously wore a hideous mauve gown with yellow flashes of lightning, so my purple and yellow combo was a tribute to her.  But if you have more restrained taste, do check out the Rennies’ colour range, as there is something there for everyone. These days we can buy online – so much easier but maybe less fun than the stash enhancement done by Miss Murray in Anne Bronte’s “Agnes Grey”, who:

 …Ostensibly… went to get some shades of  Berlin wool, at a tolerably respectable shop that was chiefly supported by the ladies of the vicinity….

I wonder if Anne did the same, in 1845, on Coney Street? We will never know. But it’s fun, speculating.

coney st
Coney Street, York. Credit: Nate Hunt

2 replies on ““Our First Long Journey By Ourselves””

Hi Karen

Most of the knitting I saw “behind the scenes” was frame-knitted, too – but I suppose that reflects the West Riding’s heritage, as well! There were some nice crocheted collars – nothing too complicated. But the gauge of the needles from the work-box, and the wear-marks/depth of holes in the knitting sticks, made me fairly certain that someone there was knitting stockings. Certainly the older generation (Maria and Elizabeth Branwell), and more than likely, the three surviving daughters. The fact that two of the sticks are tin, and one marked “MB” suggests at least some of the sticks were brought up from Cornwall in the earlier part of the Century. The “M.B” stick also tells us the Brontes themselves owned and used the sticks – as so many of the descriptions of stocking knitting by the sisters, seem to be descriptions of servants knitting.

I suspect hand-knitted stockings were simply seen as of less value. So people used and re-used them, re-footed them and wore them a bit longer – but succeeding generations, when everything was shop-bought and frame-knitted – saw them as ‘worthless’ and threw them out. At earlier dates, some of the frame-knitted stockings were highly prized because they were more expensive!


I was in awe at the gauge on the baby socks knitted by Charlotte Bronte and on display in the Parsonage museum. And the knitted lace edgings on the tablecloths in the kitchen also looked fun (though much thicker yarn). For such prolific needleworkers there’s not much on display in the musuem 😦


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