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Norfolk Ganseys


In the days when I worked at Cromer Museum (1978-1999) I became obsessed with noting down the patterns of hand-knitted ganseys from old photographs and surviving examples in museum collections. This section of the Northfolk website is an extension of that research. I am attempting to document every gansey pattern I can find from Norfolk and this is a work in progress. The source data for these web pages (with original sources, background information and a gansey chart) is put into a 'Modes' database, which is the system that is most widely adopted in UK museums today. The html code for these pages is generated from the database. The copyright in the pattern charts is licenced under Creative Commons and may be freely used in non-commercial ways with attribution and without modification. Images may be subject to copyright and where known this is given.

It is essential that a pattern, as interpreted by me, is verified by knitting up a swatch. As I am not a knitter myself I am indebted to a small team of knitters from the Sheringham Textile Group (that meets in the Sheringham Museum at The Mo every third Tuesday of the month) for undertaking this. The knitter who verified the chart is acknowledged in the database and on the pattern chart. The pdf charts are created first as a Word table and converted for publication using 'CutePDF Writer'. In some cases the chart is only a 'best endeavour' as the photographs are not always clear enough to be certain but I and the knitting team have made every effort to chart every pattern exactly as they were knitted in the original.

Esther Nurse swatch by Val Smith

Left: Belsha Johnson, Sheringham fisherman. An autochrome by Olive Edis (©Cromer Museum). Right : test swatch of Esther Nurse's pattern by Val Smith.

For those who may not know, ganseys were worn pretty well universally by the fishermen of the British Isles and around North Sea coasts (including The Netherlands and perhaps other places that I have not yet discovered). They can be traced to the early 19th century with certainty but their earlier origins are less clear. While many fishermen chose to wear commercially purchased hand- and machine-knitted jumpers, it is the beautiful hand-knitted designs that are associated with specific places and knitted by loved-ones that are the most interesting to me. From the 1950s onwards only the die-hard traditionalist fishermen wore hand knitted ganseys, as new materials and designs for clothing worn at sea became available. They are very rare today and I would encourage anyone encountering surviving examples (in any condition) to try to get them into a museum collection, as they are at risk of moth and being discarded by un-knowing relatives. I would be delighted if they would tell me about them too, so I can document them.


Martin Warren, The Northfolk Project
14.3.2019