Thursday 3 March 2016

The Hopes of Ramsgate

I wrote in December 2014 about a little Victorian knitting book that John had given me, The Knitter’s Friend.  The title page says that it was edited by Mrs. Hope, and published by I. Hope of 58, Queen Street, Ramsgate.  I was curious about the identity of Mrs Hope and I. Hope, and so set about doing some research.

At the same time, unknown to me, Lesley O’Connell Edwards, who edits the Knitting & Crochet Guild magazine, Slipknot, was also researching the Hopes.  I eventually found out that we had been working in parallel, and for the past few months we have been exchanging emails.  Lesley has now published her findings in an article in a recent issue of Piecework magazine:   George Curling Hope: A Man in a Woman's World.  

Lesley and I both looked at the 19th century censuses, but otherwise were using different sources, and so I have some details about the Hopes that Lesley did not have, and would not in any case have had space for in her article.  To make the story of the Hopes more complete, I’ll record my findings here.

According to the British Library catalogue, the Mrs. Hope who edited The Knitter’s Friend and other books was Mrs George Curling Hope.  But Lesley has shown that Mrs Hope was not the wife of George Curling Hope, but his mother – her husband was Isaac Hope, who published her books.  George was apparently their only child, born in Ramsgate in 1820.  I don’t know where the name ‘Curling’ came from – it wasn’t Margaret’s maiden name, which would be the obvious assumption.  George used it as if it were part of his surname, and in later life was often referred to as Mr Curling Hope.

In the 1841 census, the Hope family were recorded as living at Queen Street.  Isaac and George are both described as ‘Toyman’ – which appears to have meant a dealer in fancy goods.  Margaret is not recorded as having any occupation, but was undoubtedly involved in the business.  Also living in the house were a ‘Shop Woman’ and ‘F.S.’ (presumably a Female Servant).  This gives an impression of some prosperity.

Knitting and crochet had become very popular from the late 1830s, leading to a flurry of instruction books.  These were listed in 1955 by Esther Potter, in English Knitting and Crochet books of the Nineteenth Century, published in the journal The Library.  She described ‘a craze for fancy needlework’ spreading to this country from Germany in the early 1800s, so that knitting, as ‘a form of recreation for ladies of the leisured classes’ had become popular by the late 1830s, along with crochet.  The result was that:
 “The proprietors of the establishments which sold needlework materials were not slow to add knitting-wools to their stock, and to promote the new fashion by giving lessons and by issuing manuals of instruction.  A host of charming little books was turned out between about 1840 and 1860.”  
The mistaken idea that books edited by Mrs Hope were produced by “Mr and Mrs George Curling Hope” is perhaps due to Esther Potter (unless the misinformation was already in the British Library catalogue, and she copied it.)  She listed eleven books on knitting and crochet under that heading that first appeared in the 1840s - in fact, they were all the work of either Mrs Hope or George Curling Hope, but never both.

In 1842, George Curling Hope published My Working Friend. This seems to have been the first book published by either of the Hopes.  The title page describes it as ‘being plain directions for the various stitches in Fancy Needlework with hints on their employment, by G. Curling Hope.’  (I have not seen a copy of My Working Friend, but have seen an image of the title page.)

Mrs Hope followed her son’s example.  The Knitter’s Friend was first published in February 1844. [1]  It was advertised as:
“Now ready at all Berlin Shops, an entirely new illustrated Knitting Book….. THE KNITTER’S FRIEND; with 50 Original Receipts in Knitting and Netting for Opera Caps, Hoods, Cuffs, Boots, Shoes, Cardinal Capes, &c &c.”   
(Berlin shops initially sold Berlin wool for the embroidery on canvas called Berlin work, but later they also sold knitting wools and crochet cottons.)

A 2nd edition of The Knitter’s Friend was advertised later in 1844 as “corrected, improved and enlarged".  The '50 original receipts' had now been increased to 60.  I don’t know of any online copy of either of these early editions.  The copy available from the Winchester School of Art library is the 5th edition.   My own copy seems to be slightly later still, though it simply says ‘Corrected edition’, and was probably printed in 1847.

In another post, I will revisit my copy The Knitter’s Friend and show how all three of the Hopes were involved in it.  (To be continued.) 

[1] Although the first edition of The Knitter’s Friend is dated to 1842 in the British Library catalogue and by Esther Potter, I’m sure it’s later.  It is listed in the Publishers’ Circular for February 15th 1844  as a new work, published since 30th January that year.


  1. Thanks for posting this Barbara & I'll look out for Lesley's article as well - one of my most treasured books is by Mrs Hope "The Knitter's Casket"

    1. Thanks for the comment, Yvonne. I treasure my own copy of The Knitter's Friend. The Knitter's Casket is a very nice little book, too - we have a copy in the Guild collection, though sadly one page is missing.

  2. My copy is earmarked to go to the Guild when I no longer need it but I'm hoping that will be a while yet!

    1. That's very generous of you, Yvonne -- but I hope it will be a long while too.


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