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A fisherman's gansey was once his most distinctive feature. A navy blue jumper, patterned on the top half and part of the sleeves, was a proud possession.
It was likely to be knitted by a loved one and carried a pattern characteristic of the fishing port or family.
Ganseys could be found all around the North Sea coast from the early 19th century to the middle of the 20th century and the tradition lives on with a few Norfolk fishermen today.
Fishermen and their Ganseys
Tightly knitted, and snug fitting the fisherman’s gansey was virtually windproof and waterproof. The cuffs were very close fitting so as to keep out winter winds and ended short of the wrist to avoid being caught on any pieces of equipment or becoming soaked as the fisherman worked at sea. Cast off at the bottom end, any necessary repairs could be made by unravelling from the cuff and re-knitting. As these working garments were rarely washed, a layer of filth would have given extra protection against the elements.
Halfway up the gansey the densely knitted pattern provided extra warmth to the upper body and an opportunity for the knitter to show off their skills with extremely delicate and fine knitting. This is particularly true of ganseys knitted in Sheringham. They are extremely fine, knitted on size 16 or even 17 needles with three ply wool.
The variety of patterns created by Sheringham knitters over the years is enormous. Apart from plainer ‘working’ ganseys, nearly all had vertical columns of pattern. Everyday objects in the lives of fishing families, for example ropes and herringbone, inspired many of the stitch motifs. Other patterns were based on the weather, for instance one-inch columns of zigzags alternating with similar columns of fine moss stitch give ‘lightening and hailstones’. Being the same front and back, the gansey was reversible. This meant that areas that came in for heavier wear, such as elbows, could be alternated.
Theme: Sailors' Crafts
black and white photograph of Cromer coxswain Henry Blogg with the Prince of Wales at a presentation ceremony in the Central Hall, Westminster, London
West Runton Elephant. A reconstruction drawing by Sam Brown of the likely appearance of the West Runton elephant.
Gansey knitting stick or shield
Cromer Museum have kindly invited me to come & do my Propagansey talk & display this Satu…
photograph, colour slide, photographer Dr A.J. Stuart, 1990. Harold Hems measuring the pelvis of a large bull elephant in situ in the West Runton Freshwater Bed. 1990
The Davies family taken between 1907 and 1909
In March 1915 Rev Hamilton wrote in the Cromer Parish Magazine that he had been talking to Tom Ba…
A black and white photograph of Cromer coxswain Henry Blogg with the Prince of Wales at a presentation ceremony in the Central Hall, Westminster, London
Six steel double-pointed needles, of size 16 and 17 gauge, the type used for knitting ganseys.
photograph, colour slide, photographer Dr A.J. Stuart, 1992. Artist Sam Brown worked with Tony Stuart to envisage what the West Runton elephant looked like - this is one of his sketches. 1992