Saturday, 10 August 2019

Beehive Recipe Cards

We are now very used to the idea that manufacturers of knitting yarns publish patterns to promote the use of their yarns. In Britain, this practice began just before World War I, when J. & J. Baldwin & Partners, of Halifax, published their first Beehive Booklets, closely followed by J. Paton, Son & Co. Ltd., of Alloa, with their "Helps to Knitters" booklets.  (Other spinners did not adopt the idea until much later.)

In 1920, the two companies merged to form Patons & Baldwins, of Alloa and Halifax. But for several years afterwards, the component companies seem to have operated separately to some degree, placing separate ads for their products, sometimes in the same magazine, and they carried on publishing both Beehive Booklets and Helps to Knitters.

Also in the early 20s, Baldwins started to produce a series of "Beehive Recipe Cards".

Beehive Card No. 34 

While the booklets were at least four pages long, and often more, recipe cards were suitable for simpler patterns that would fit onto both sides of a single sheet of card, with a small photo.

There are only three of the cards in the Knitting & Crochet Guild collection: one has patterns for two crocheted hats, a sailor hat and a tam o' shanter. The others are dress patterns for little girls: the 'Nancy' design has a simple dress with knickers (a rather loose pair of knitted shorts), while the 'Isobel' design is a fancier dress, modelled by a glum-looking child wearing an enormous bow in her hair.

Beehive Card No. 54

The cards were advertised alongside the Beehive booklets for a few years, using a drawing based on the photo on the card. Presumably that was cheaper than reproducing the photo, but sometimes the drawing is more attractive than the photo, to my mind.

Beehive Card No. 71, advertised in 1924. 
Photo from Beehive Card No. 71
(from the copy in the British Library)

The British Library has 86 of the recipe cards, which seems to be a complete set.  They all have a British Museum stamp with dates between December 1921 and July 1924.  (The British Library used to be housed in the British Museum.) So evidently the cards were short-lived - perhaps the company decided that it was too complicated to keep publishing patterns in two different formats.  A recipe card could easily be expanded to a 4-page booklet - have a bigger photo to fill the first page, add a few washing hints perhaps, and if necessary use the last page to show illustrations of some of the other booklets available.  Though from the knitter's point of view, it seems to me that a single sheet of card is more convenient than a flimsier 4-page booklet.

Here are a couple more photos from the cards, to show that they weren't all underwear or children's patterns. 
Photo from Beehive Card No. 22
(from the copy in the British Library) 

Card No. 22 has room for a description of the garment:
The "Lady Hilda" Blouse Jumper is very light in weight and makes a dainty garment for wearing under a Coat or indoors.  The lacey pattern introduced into the neck, cuffs and border, nicely worked,  makes the garment a very stylish one.
Later cards dropped the description, and the tinting of the photo, and used real models rather than dress stands.

Photo from Beehive Card No. 84
(from the copy in the British Library) 

The Rachael design from Card No. 84 is a crocheted jumper, in Kingfisher Lustre Wool, a wool-rayon mix. The front and back are identical T shapes, typical of early 20s jumpers - as is the cord belt with tassel.

The set of recipe cards give a comprehensive picture of what knitters and crocheters were being encouraged to make in the early 1920s.  Possibly many of the cards only survive now in the British Library - it is a wonderful institution. 

Friday, 2 August 2019

Fair Isle Knitting Made Easy

I'm not suggesting that I am about to make Fair Isle knitting easy - the post title comes from a Weldon's Sixpenny Series booklet that I have been scanning to put on the Knitting & Crochet Guild website, for members to download.

Weldon's Sixpenny Series No. 217

Weldon's published over 300 titles in their Sixpenny Series, in the 1920s and 1930s.  They aren't dated, so I might try to assign dates to them myself in a later post, as I did for Fancy Needlework Illustrated. I can at least date this issue, No. 217, fairly confidently to 1930 - it has an ad for a Patons & Baldwins pattern, which also appeared in another publication dated November 1930.

Why did Weldon's claim that the booklet made Fair Isle knitting easy? Largely because the colour patterns were charted, rather than being written out row by row, as was usual at that time (and still common much later, too).  The introduction says :
"In view of the enormous popularity of Fair Isle Woollies, the following "Easy-Way" method of knitting these designs has been devised. This method obviates the use of long and tiring directions which are substituted by simple charts, showing the pattern at a glance. These charts arc extremely clear as each square represents a stitch, and each sign a colour. A ruler laid across the chart above the row being worked, greatly helps in keeping the place."
Here's one of the charts, which now seems perfectly ordinary to knitters:

But Weldon's had to explain using charts to knitters who had never used them before, and probably never seen them before.  It was especially tricky here, because the designs in the booklets are knitted in the round up to the armholes, and then knitted flat up to the shoulders; the sleeves are knitted flat from the cuff upwards.   So the booklet has to explain how to read the chart when working in the round ("the chart must always be read from right to left"), and then how to read them when working flat, with alternate rows of knit ("plain") and purl: "The plain rows, which are the uneven numbered rows, are read from right to left of the charts, and the purl rows, which are the even numbered rows, from left to right."

The charts also show the shaping for the neck, armholes and sleeves, which is also explained very carefully.  (Of course, the patterns are all given in only one size, which simplifies showing the shaping on a chart.)  There's also advice about using a "a piece of coloured thread knitted in with a stitch" to mark the start of each round - which sounds like a separate piece of thread for each round, rather than how we would use stitch markers now. 

The booklet also explains how to hold one strand of wool in each hand when knitting Fair Isle patterns (though only when knitting in the round or on the knit rows in the flat sections).  I was surprised to see this useful advice given so early.  Many Fair Isle pattern leaflets published much later than this leave the knitter to work out for themselves how to work with two strands of wool at the same time.

Now for the designs. The two on the front cover are to "complete your sports outfit".   There are only two different patterns in each, one wide band and one narrow, but "an elaborate effect is achieved by reversing the colours" on alternate wide bands, which is a clever idea.  Here's another view of the  man's sweater:

The instructions say that "this pullover can, if preferred, be worn tucked in, as shown on the cover, in which case a deep welt is worked in place of patterns at the lower edge." In my view, wearing it tucked in is very wrong indeed, so I am glad to see that there is a more sensible alternative.

There is another woman's sweater like the cover design, of a similar shape with patterned bands all over and a V neck (and also shown worn with a beret). It's suggested that this is to wear with a tweed suit, "for sports and general wear".

 And the third jumper for women is the "Heath" design, with Fair Isle bands around the lower edge, around the cuffs, and bordering the V neck. I like this one a lot.

And finally, there is a sleeveless pullover, billed as 'a well-fitting "tuck-in"'.  (Noooo!  Don't tuck it in!)

Apart from the tuck-ins, the designs are very attractive. I think it's interesting, too, that the instructions are so technically advanced.  Many "Fair Isle" patterns published in Britain, even decades later than this one, instructed knitters to work all the pieces flat, with front and back knitted separately.  Recent Fair Isle sweater patterns are more likely to tell knitters to work in the round throughout, with steeks at the armholes and neck.  I don't know when steeking instructions were first published in this country, but I would have been astonished if they had appeared in a 1930 booklet.

I would love to know whether any Shetland knitters were consulted about techniques, or designed any of the sweaters. But it was very rare to name the designers at that time, and this booklet is no exception.

Knitting & Crochet Guild members will find a pdf copy of the booklet on the Guild website under Membership and then Pattern Downloads.  (If you aren't a member and are interested in vintage knitting and crochet publications, you might consider joining - Guild membership is open to anyone.)       

Monday, 29 July 2019

Crochet Gloves

On Saturday, I went to Lincoln with a suitcase of some of my favourite pieces from the Knitting & Crochet Guild collection, to show them to the local Guild branch. I shan't write about most of them here, though one that has already had a post to itself is the "Victorious Peace" tea cosy -
an obvious choice as it has the date 1919 worked into the filet crochet, so this is its centenary year.

I also took a few crocheted gloves, which I think are fascinating.  I don't ever want to wear a pair, but they represent the way that women once wanted to look.  Once upon a time, ladies were not properly dressed out of doors without a hat and gloves.  In winter, gloves had an additional function in keeping hands warm, but in summer, they had to be cool and preferably light coloured.  In the 1940s and 50s, patterns appeared for summer gloves crocheted in cotton. We have many of the patterns, and at least a dozen pairs of the gloves, in the collection. 

Here are two pairs I showed on Saturday: a white pair with a very open pattern of ovals on the back of the hand and the fingers, and around the cuffs. 

 And a pale blue pair with a pattern of trefoils around the cuffs, and crochet buttons to fasten them - I think these are delightful.

In a few cases, we have managed to match a pair of gloves to a pattern.  Here's a late 1940s Bestway pattern, and a pair of gloves to the same pattern.

Bestway 2014

My favourite patterns for these gloves show the ideal look that the gloves were intended to complement.  Coats leaflet 298 is an example - it shows a sketch of a lady in a sort of New Look outfit, wearing the gloves that you could make from the pattern.

Coats 298
Inside are further sketches of various ladylike activities which would be enhanced by the gloves - drinking champagne, smoking a cigarette (in a holder, of course),....  All with a smartly dressed (no doubt rich and handsome) escort.

And Coats Book No. 405, with several patterns for crochet gloves, sets out what a pair of crochet gloves would offer: "Paris or Penrith, country or town, feminine fancy dictates crochet gloves for summer chic.  The 'finger tip-top' smartness of fashionable gloves in crochet gives that groomed, well dressed, finish to spring suit or summer ensemble.  Elegance, daintiness, delicacy, youthfulness -- take your choice from these inexpensive 'made-to-treasure' gloves."

Coats Book No. 405

They would certainly be inexpensive to make (if you are skilled with a crochet hook, which I'm not).  They are totally impractical for everyday activities, but they could look very pretty with a floaty dress at a summer wedding.  (Again, not for me.) 

If you'd like to try making a pair, and you are a member of the Knitting & Crochet Guild, the Coats booklet is available to download from the Membership area of the Guild website. (And if you're not a member, you could join - membership is open to anyone.)

From Coats Book No. 405

Monday, 8 July 2019

Home Journal

A few weeks ago, I was going through some knitting and crochet patterns in the Knitting & Crochet Guild collection that were free with newspapers or women's magazines when I came across a 1930s leaflet for an attractive cardigan with an interesting collar in garter stitch, and crocheted buttons. It was one of  a series of six that were given away free with successive issues of Home Journal in October/November 1937, though this is the only one of the six that we have in the KCG collection.

It occurred to me that I didn't know anything about Home Journal, unlike more familiar titles such as Woman's Weekly, Home Chat, Home Notes. (There were probably dozens of women's magazines published in the 1930s, and there wasn't a lot of variety in the titles - which struck me when I first started sorting them out, and wrote a post about them here.)

We have two issues of the magazine itself in the collection, from March 1935, with the usual mixture of fiction, cooking, beauty, needle crafts, and articles about the lives of royalty and Hollywood stars.  From these issues, I knew that Home Journal was published by the Amalgamated Press, one of the giants of magazine publishing.

For more information about Home Journal, I turned first to The Business of Women's Magazines, by Braithwaite and Barrell, which is my usually reliable source for 20th century women's magazine history.  But no luck - Home Journal is not mentioned.  The British Library catalogue was more helpful, and told me that it was published from 1934 to 1939, when it was incorporated into Woman's Pictorial, another Amalgamated Press weekly.

I also searched the newspapers in FindMyPast, and found an ad for the first issue of  Home Journal, from March 1934:
"What a beautiful paper!" That's the first comment of everyone privileged to see the first copies of the new HOME JOURNAL; it is a spontaneous tribute to the most artistically printed and produced paper for women yet published.
HOME  JOURNAL is beautiful—and it is practical and entertaining, too. Absolutely in tune with all women's interests of to-day. Therefore it is up-to-the-minute in fashion, up-to-date in ideas, bright and refreshing to read; the ideal weekly magazine for women who appreciate the good things of this world in dress, beauty, health, fiction, films and knitting. No woman can afford to miss HOME JOURNAL.
Why not get a copy now, before the rush comes - for there will be a rush!
Frock pattern and 100 embroidery transfers free in every copy.
Here's the front cover of Home Journal from March 23rd 1935. It doesn't make me say "What a beautiful paper!", but the quality of printing is very good, and the paper is much smoother than say Woman's Weekly at that date.  (The photo is of Evelyn Laye and Frank Lawton, British stage and screen actors who were married to each other.)   

Home Journal, March 23rd 1935.

The ad also describes it as "the NEW ALL PHOTOGRAVURE Weekly Magazine for women", 3d. every Wednesday.  I went back to Braithwaite and Barrell at that point, because they have a section on photogravure, which they describe as a new standard of printing "that would almost overnight make the pulp weeklies look very drab".  They say that photogravure is an expensive process to set up, but becomes more economical with very large print runs.  Their account gives the credit for the first women's magazine to be completely produced by photogravure to Woman, launched in 1937. Though if the 1934 ad is correct, it seems that actually Home Journal was there first.

An article in the Sheffield Independent in March 1934 suggests that the Amalgamated Press were aiming at a very high circulation for Home Journal:
The new weekly paper for women — "Home Journal"—has been welcomed everywhere. So great was the demand for copies that the first edition of 300,000 was sold out on the first day. A second edition of 100,000 was printed and distributed in record time for a magazine of such beauty and artistic merit.
This, too, was soon swapped up and within 48 hours of this magazine's first appearance practically every copy printed had been sold. It is, without doubt. a record in the history of publishing for 400,000 copies of a threepenny weekly magazine of the character of "Home Journal" to be sold in less than two days.

(This purports to be independent reporting, but I suspect it was based on a press release, or even paid for.)  I don't know why the magazine was merged with Woman's Pictorial in 1939.  Perhaps the circulation wasn't large enough to make it economical, or if the merger happened late in the year, it might be that Amalgamated Press decided to reduce the number of titles in anticipation of shortages of paper due to the war.

So what about knitting?  There is a knitting pattern in both issues that we have.  In the March 1935 issue, there is a jumper in stocking stitch, with chevrons back and front in garter stitch.

Knitted jumper pattern from Home Journal, March 23rd 1935. 

The other issue in the KCG collection has a knitting pattern illustrated on the front cover:

Home Journal, March 2nd, 1935
The jumper was knitted in a wool-rayon yarn called 'Sheenella', and has bands of moss stitch separated by double rib - though the main feature is the big bow, of course.

I think it's likely that there was a knitting or crochet pattern in every issue. But the magazine seems to have been lavish with free gifts, which sometimes, as in 1937, were knitting patterns in free leaflets or gift books. As well as the leaflet illustrated at the top, we have a gift book of "Quickly Knitted Designs", given free with an issue of Home Journal (undated).  Like the magazines themselves, the pattern leaflet and the gift book are good quality publications. At the time, Patons & Baldwins leaflets, to a similar standard, cost 2d., so a free leaflet with a 3d. magazine was a bargain, a gift book with several patterns included even more so.  And they are very stylish designs.  If you like 1930s knitwear, they are very attractive - though the patterns would need adapting for most of us.  The jumpers illustrated are all designed for a 34 in. bust, so a UK size 10.  Worth the effort  of adapting a pattern if you're a 1930s fan.

I'll write about the "Quickly Knitted Designs" gift book another time.

Wednesday, 3 July 2019

Improved Holder for a Ball of Wool

I was looking closely yesterday at a recent donation to the Knitting & Crochet Guild collection - a yarn holder.

(At least, we assumed it was a yarn holder - and you can indeed get a small ball of wool inside it. But I have never seen one like it, and if it wasn't anything to do with knitting or crochet, it might equally well have been some strange accoutrement for a medieval knight.)

It didn't at first sight have any markings on it, to indicate who had made it.  But then I saw a patent number, engraved very small.

I do like a gadget with a patent. I found the patent on Espacenet, and yes, it is a yarn holder.  The patent was granted in 1923 to John Blennerhassett, Manufacturer, of 60 Regent Place, Birmingham, for an "improved holder for a ball of wool or the like for use while knitting or crocheting."  The patent has a drawing of a holder exactly like ours, although the patent suggests that it could be varied in several ways.

The patent describes a holder "embodying three or more hollow ball segments all but one of which are fixed, and the remaining one of which is diametrically pivoted upon the others to swing aside to open the holder" to allow the ball of wool to be placed inside.

Yarn holder closed

Yarn holder open

No dimensions are specified in the patent, but ours is quite small - about 7cm. in diameter.

As the patent says, "It is of advantage to leave between each segment a space .. so that the wool ball may be seen."  There are three openings in the top fixed segment - one for the wool, and two narrow slots for a strap, "by which the holder may hang from the arm of the user".  The ribbon with the holder (shown in the first photo) may be the original: it has a metal tag at one end, which may be the 'stop bar' mentioned in the patent that could be applied to the strap. But if there ever was a tag at the other end, it is missing, and the tag is not in fact big enough to stop the ribbon going through the slot.  Of course, it would be easy enough to thread a new thin ribbon through the slots and to tie the ends together, so the stop bars are not essential. 

The patent didn't tell me anything about John Blennerhassett's business, but I have managed to find out a bit about him.  He was born in 1888, the son of a bricklayer.  By the 1911 census, he was prospering: he was a diemaker (so already working with metal), and an employer.  (He was also doing well in his personal life: he was lodging with the Law family, and married their elder daughter the following year.)  A short obituary of John Blennerhassett in the Birmingham Daily Post in 1969 says that he founded the firm of Hassett and Harper Ltd., described there as a metal pressing firm.  The Regent Place address, given in the patent, is the company's.  Before World War II, the company seems to have made small items exclusively, mainly in silver and pewter. The company name led to a lot more information here about John Blennerhassett, from a site about the Blennerhassett family tree.

Grace's Guide lists the company, and gives their entry in the exhibitors list at the 1929 British Industries Fair: "Manufacturers of Silver, Tortoiseshell and Enamel Brushware, Caskets, Cups, Cigarette Cases and Boxes, Flower Vases and Bowls, Military Sets, Manicures, Photo Frames, Tea Sets. Special Line in Tear-off match Cases. Birmingham Jewellers' and Silversmiths' Association Member."   So our wool holder would have fitted into that list and would probably have been seen as a luxury item.  It does look very striking, though to me it doesn't seem very useful by modern standards.  It can only hold a small ball of wool - it wouldn't hold a 100g. ball, for instance - and I think that most knitters and crocheters now would prefer a yarn holder that sits on a table, rather than having to carry it hanging from the wrist. But it is an ingenious idea, and completely different from any other yarn holder in the Guild collection. 

Wednesday, 26 June 2019

Olympus and Olympiada

I haven't written anything here for weeks - apologies.  We were on holiday for most of May, first in Romania, then, after a few days back home to unpack, do the washing, and repack, to Greece.  Since we got back from Greece, I've been catching up on all the things that didn't get done while I was away, as well as all the things that have accumulated since.  I am never going to get around to writing about Romania (though it was a very good holiday), so we'll forget about that.  But I'll show a few photos of our Greek holiday. 

As usual, we went with Gareth of Naturally Greece - this was our fifth holiday with him.  (There should have been one more, but we couldn't go the year I broke my wrists.)    We flew to Thessaloniki and then transferred to a lovely hotel, Ktima Bellou.  It's west of Mount Olympus - the top of one of the mountain's peaks is just visible from Ktima Bellou over the range of hills across the valley.

From there, we did some walks on the lower slopes of Mount Olympus, including part of the gorge from Prionia to Litochoro. There was snow on the bare slopes of the mountain, while the surrounding hills are forested.

We visited the archaeological site of Dion, near Mount Olympus, and its museum. Dion was a religious centre in ancient times, for the worship of Zeus and other Olympian gods  - and gods from elsewhere such as Isis.   (Much of the visible remains are from Roman times,  and the Romans were very broad-minded about adopting other people's gods.) 

The frieze of armour and shields that decorated the Roman basilica at Dion
For the second half of the holiday, we went to Olympiada, on the Halkidiki coast, and stayed at the Hotel Liotopi.  We did some more short walks and did a boat trip along the coast of the Mount Athos peninsula to see the monasteries - from a distance, as the boats have to stay a distance of 500m. from the shore (I think to avoid any possibility of women contaminating the place). And we visited Amphipolis, a huge archaeological site scattered over a large area.  The most impressive thing we saw there was the huge Amphipolis lion, which has been reassembled from fragments.

(Note the dog lying at the foot of the monument.  Greece seems to be full of dogs with nothing to do - at least this one has a role in providing a scale for the lion.)   It's thought that the base of the monument was much bigger, and there are lots of fragments left over, to one side of the site, so I can believe it. 

We visited several other areas of Amphipolis, including a large early Christian basilica, with re-used columns from earlier buildings, and some nice mosaics.  I especially liked the octopus.

We went to the excellent museum at Amphipolis, too, where one of the treasures is the silver ossuary with a gold wreath, which held the cremated remains of Brasidas, the Spartan general who defeated the Athenians in 422 BCE in a battle at Amphipolis, but was wounded and died shortly afterwards.

 If I understood the label correctly, the ossuary was found on the site of the museum in the archaeological dig carried out before it was built - which is about as unlikely as finding the body of Richard III in a car park.

I think that Greece had a very cold spring this year, so the spring flowers were very late.  By the end of May they would usually have been over, but there were flowers everywhere. At Ktima Bellou, we did a short stroll in the meadow next to the hotel and found lots of different flowers, identified for us by a friend of Gareth's who is very knowledgeable about plants.

The archaeological areas of Amphipolis were very pretty, with masses of poppies and other flowers.

We did a walk along the beach near Olympiada and found several kinds of specialised seashore plants - this is sea bindweed.

Throughout the holiday, we had very good food at every meal.  Ktima Bellou does wonderful organic food, much of it grown by the family, and Loulou at the Hotel Liotopi does regular cookery demonstrations of some of the dishes on the menu at her brother's restaurant where we ate every evening.

I don't like to think that I am so shallow and greedy that delicious food is an essential part of a good holiday, but sadly I find that it's true.  Since we got back we have been trying to recreate some of the dishes we had in Greece.  We have mastered spanakopita, and I'm working on a dish of roasted aubergine with walnuts and feta.  I don't think I'll ever cook octopus tentacles though.

Now, back to knitting.

Thursday, 16 May 2019

Mrs Roe, Mrs Cooper and Mrs Edwards

In the last post I wrote about Marie Jane Cooper's New Guide to Knitting and Crochet, published in 1847.  In trying to find out more about Marie Jane Cooper's life, it was at first much easier to find out about her father and his Royal Marine Library in Hastings than about her mother.  But more searching eventually led to a story of three generations of women keeping Berlin wool shops, from the 1820s or 30s until the 1880s.

Mary Jane (as she is named in the records) was born in 1827, in London (St Pancras).  In the 1830s, the family evidently lived in France - from later censuses, at least three further children, Frederick, Augusta Elizabeth and Walter were born there (probably in Boulogne, which is specified as the birthplace of one of the children in one of the censuses).

At that time, it was cheaper to live in France than in England, so I surmised that it was financial difficulties that had caused the Cooper's to move to France. And in fact, there is some evidence for that: at the end of 1829, a partnership was dissolved between Nathan Chopping & Joseph Sidney Cooper, who had been japanners in London.  (The name Cooper is common, but the combination Joseph Sidney Cooper is distinctive.)   That suggests that their business was in some sort of trouble, which could account for the Cooper family leaving for France.

The Coopers moved back to England to settle in Hastings in about 1839.  (I have an idea about how that happened which I will mention below.)  Joseph Cooper had the Marine Library at least from October 1839, when an announcement of the death of another daughter, Ann Maria, appeared in the local newspaper.  From 1839 on, the family's finances appear to have been secure.

Associated with the Marine Library was a 'Bazaar', which seems to have been the "Foreign and British Depot of Berlin Patterns and Materials for Ladies' Fancy Works" mentioned on the title page of Marie Jane Cooper's book.  The title page gives the strong impression that Mr Cooper ran that part of the business as well as the Marine Library, and an ad in 1840 was placed by 'J. Cooper of the Old Established Bazaar and Royal Marine Library'.  But I am certain that the Bazaar was Mrs Cooper's domain.  In the 1841 census, Joseph is listed as 'Librarian' and Anna Maria as 'Toyshop Keeper' - though the layout may be intended to suggest that Joseph Cooper had both roles and Anna Maria was (just) his wife.  (In the same census, Isaac Hope and his son George Curling Hope, who kept a Fancy Repository and Berlin wool shop in Ramsgate at that time, are described as 'Toymen' - 'toy' seems to have included fancy goods and general fripperies such as Berlin wool.)

The Marine Library's main function was of course as a library.  An ad in 1840 gives a table of subscription fees, for periods ranging from one week up to one year, and for one person, two people or a family.  Newspapers could be borrowed for a week, for a shilling (5p) and subscribers could borrow up to two volumes at a time.  After Isaac Hope took over the Marine Library, he advertised it as "The largest reading room in the town, remote from Street Traffic, and having a splendid Sea View."   I imagine that it catered mainly for visitors to the town.  As well as a lending library, it seems to have provided a comfortable place to meet people, read the latest books and view the sea - a very useful amenity on a British seaside holiday, when good weather is not guaranteed.

In Ross's Guide to Hastings and St Leonards, published in 1847, there is a full page ad for the Marine Library.  (The British Library copy of the guide is available from Google Books).

It gives a comprehensive description of the Library's facilities:
This Library will be found the most commodious in Hastings. The leading Journals of the day lie on the table, as well as all Periodicals of merit; comprising, the Edinburgh Review, Quarterly, New Monthly, Blackwood, &c.  Road Book, Gazetteer, Court Guide, Maps, Dictionaries, &c.
J. S. COOPER has on sale every description of articles in Stationery, useful and ornamental. The Library consists of works of Biography, History, Divinity, Poetry, the Drama, Novels, Romances, &c.
A large assortment of elegantly-bound Books, Albums, Blotting, Bible, Prayer Books, Church Services, Pietas, &c., much under the ordinary charge. Periodicals supplied on the day of publication. Writing Desks and Work Boxes at reduced prices. 
In addition Mr Cooper offered pianofortes for sale or hire, and "Bagatelle Tables, Telescopes, Globes, Guitars, Backgammon Boards and Chess-Men."  He was also a local agent for the Western Life Assurance Society, and offered information to "Visitors in want of Houses or Apartments", so acted as a kind of Tourist Information Office.

The ad in the 1847 Guide goes on to describe the Berlin Wool Depot (again without mentioning Mrs Cooper):
 Adjoining the Library, is the old-established German and Berlin Wool Depot, at which will be found the largest assortment of Wools, Canvasses, Finished Needle Work, and Netting Silks, Tassels, Cords, Ivory Work from Paris and Dieppe, and a great variety of other articles for the Work Table, &c., imported direct from the Continent.
I think that Marie Jane Cooper must have worked in the Berlin Wool Depot before she published her book in 1847, and it seems much more likely that Mrs Cooper ran that side of the business than that Joseph Cooper ran it as well as the Marine Library.  And in fact I eventually found solid evidence for that.   This report appeared in the Hastings and St Leonards Observer in 1879:
Mrs. Anna Maria Cooper, another old inhabitant, died on the 15th inst. at her residence, Walland's Lodge. She was the widow of the late Joseph Sidney Cooper, Esq., and mother of Major de Brabant Cooper. She was a daughter of Mrs. Roe, of whom I had knowledge as far back as 1824, when she kept a fancy repository adjoining the old warm baths in the Fishmarket.  Mrs. Roe afterwards removed to a more prominent position at 1, East-parade, and at her death, her daughter, Mrs. Cooper, carried on the repository in connection with Cooper's Library, the latter superintended by her husband. Mr. Cooper, on retiring from business, invested some of his capital in the erection of the first houses on the east side of Warrior-square, to which, for a time, was given the name of Belgravia. He was a man of refined taste; and, as an active member of the Mechanics Institution, his services were conspicuously valuable when the said Institute in 1853 held an extensive and unique exhibition at the St. Leonards Assembly Rooms.  Mrs. Cooper survived her husband's death a considerable number of years. and at her own death had attained to the age of eighty-one.  It is but a few weeks ago that the old lady called on me, specially, as she said, to say Good bye! and to wish me and my family well; as, in all probability, it would be her last opportunity.  This mark of respect from one who was apparently in her usual health, but who was destined so soon to quit an earthly sphere, seems now to possess a peculiar significance. 
I think that Mrs Roe's death enabled the Coopers to return from France and take over her business.  A Mary Roe, born in 1772,  was buried in Hastings in June 1839;  this may be Mrs Cooper's mother, and the dates fit.  It may be significant that Joseph Cooper always refers to the Bazaar and Berlin Wool side of the business, but not the Marine Library, as 'old-established' - he may have set up the library when the family arrived in Hastings, while Mrs Cooper carried on her mother's business. But I believe that Joseph Cooper owed a lot of his subsequent prosperity to his mother-in-law and his wife, even though he never mentioned either of them in his ads.

In 1849, the Hope family moved from Ramsgate and took over the Marine Library and Bazaar.  Presumably, Joseph Cooper made enough money from the sale of the business to live on comfortably - in the 1851 census, he is listed as a 'Proprietor of houses'.

Meanwhile, what happened to Marie Jane Cooper, the starting point of this story, after she married John Edwards in 1847?

I said in the last post that in 1851, the Edwards were living in New Street, Birmingham, where Marie Jane was a Dealer in Fancy Goods and Berlin Wool.  John Edwards was a bank clerk, which was probably his occupation before they were married.  Also in the household were two children, two shop assistants, and two general servants.

In 1858, an ad in a local Birmingham newspaper announced that Mrs John Edwards was moving to different premises within New Street, probably because the business, and the family, had grown too big for the old building.  The business is described as 'Berlin, baby linen and outfitting, and fancy repository.'  By the 1861 census, there were eight children in the family.  48 New Street was their home, as well as the shop, and there were five shop assistants living there, as well as two servants.  John Edwards was still a bank clerk, but his occupation is also given as 'Berlin & Fancy repository', whereas Marie Jane's occupation is being his wife - which is annoying as the 1858 ad shows that she was the proprietor, as well as being mother to eight children and managing seven live-in staff.

The Edwards eventually had twelve children:
Annie Marie, 1849
George Joseph, 1850
Lizzie Augusta, 1851
Helen Constance, 1853
John Sydney, 1854
Catherine Blanche, 1856
Arthur Frederick, 1857
Ernest Walter, 1859
Herbert Alfred, 1861
Beatrice Mabel, 1864
Frank Percy, 1865
Hugh Leslie, 1867
(Just reading this list makes me feel tired.) I have traced seven of the children in the 1871 census; Hugh, the youngest, died before he was two, but I don't know whether the others had died, or I just can't find them.  (Researching a family with a common name like Edwards is not easy, and I know that I have missed a lot of the family's history.)

The Edwards carried on the business at 48 New Street for another 20 years, though by 1871, Ann  Ellis, one of the shop assistants, had become the manager, which perhaps allowed Mrs Edwards to slow down a bit.  And by 1881, they had downsized the business considerably, though still living in part of 48 New Street with their youngest daughter Beatrice, two shop assistants and two domestic servants.  Ann Ellis and her sister Frances, who had also been living as a shop assistant at 48 New Street,  had set up in business as Ladies Outfitters elsewhere in central Birmingham. 

 In 1882, a notice appeared in the Birmingham Daily Post to say that Mrs John Edwards was retiring and selling off her remaining stock.  She was by then 55, and it may be that John Edwards had recently died, though I have not been able to find any evidence of the date of his death.  By 1891, she was living in Hastings again, a widow, with her daughter Beatrice.  She was living on her own means, so the business in Birmingham had evidently been successful enough to provide funds for her retirement.  I think that she returned to Hastings in the early 1880s because her brother was living there with his family.  He was the grandly named Major Frederick Sidney de Brabant Cooper, mentioned in the 1879 report above about their mother Mrs Cooper - he was evidently a well-known public figure in Hastings.  

I don't know when Mary Jane died, though I can't find her in the 1901 census, nor any indication of what became of Beatrice.  But I think it's worth celebrating the fact that three generations of women made a successful business from selling Berlin wool: her grandmother Mrs Roe and her mother Mrs Cooper in Hastings,  and herself in Birmingham.  They contributed to the popularity of knitting as a leisure pursuit for Victorian ladies.  And Marie Jane Cooper added to the literature on knitting and crochet available to these Victorian ladies.  For modern knitters and crocheters, it is her book, published in 1847, that is her main achievement, but probably for her it wasn't an important part of her life compared to setting up a successful business in Birmingham, and running it with her husband for over 30 years, while raising a large family.  She must have been a tremendously energetic and capable woman - very far from the stereotypical image of a Victorian lady.  

Wednesday, 15 May 2019

Miss Cooper's Guide to Knitting and Crochet

In the 1840s, a large number of books on knitting and crochet were published in Britain, to cater for ladies who were taking up these crafts as leisure activities.  Some of the authors who were writing in the 1840s continued to write books in the following decades - Jane Gaugain, Mlle Riego de la Branchardiere, Mrs Mee,...  Others wrote several books in the 1840s and then stopped.  And others wrote just one book and then seem to have disappeared from view.  Penny Hemingway has written about several of the more prolific authors in recent issues of The Knitter - here I'm writing about one of the last group: Marie Jane Cooper.   Her New Guide to Knitting and Crochet was published in 1847, and as far as I can tell, it was her first and last book.  (The Bodleian Library copy is available online from Google books.)

I wanted to find out more about Marie Jane Cooper because the title page of her book shows that it was published by J. S. Cooper of the Royal Marine Library in Hastings - and I had already heard of the Royal Marine Library in another context.  A few years ago I was looking into the Hope family, who were also writing and publishing books on knitting and crochet in the 1840s.  The Hopes moved to Hastings from Ramsgate and took over the Marine Library from Mr. Cooper.

Title page of the New Guide to Knitting & Crochet

Mr J. S. Cooper was obviously related to Marie Jane, and the title page describes his business as "Foreign and British Depot of Berlin Patterns and Materials for Ladies' Fancy Works", as well as the the Royal Marine Library.  So it was evidently not just a library but a needlework and knitting wool shop - what was then often called a Berlin wool repository.  (Berlin wool was wool from merino sheep, imported from Germany.)

So who were J.S. and Marie Jane Cooper?   Joseph Sidney Cooper was Marie Jane's father.  She was probably the eldest child of Joseph and his wife Anna Maria.  The Coopers were in Hastings from around 1839 onwards - Mr Cooper ran the Marine Library and Mrs Cooper the associated Berlin wool repository.

Mary Jane Cooper was only 20 when the New Guide was published in 1847.  She had probably worked in the 'Bazaar' side of the Marine Library for a few years by 1847, and in that case would have been very familiar with some of the books on knitting and crochet already published, and with what the lady visitors to Hastings wanted to make.  Even so, it seems extraordinary that a 20 year-old should have the confidence to write her own book, in competition with all the others.  In her preface, she says:
"I venture to publish THE NEW GUIDE TO KNITTING AND CROCHET, believing it will prove both instructive and amusing to those Ladies, whose taste leads them to such pursuits. The Authoress being practically acquainted with these Arts, she warrants them correct, and trusts they will meet with a favourable reception by the Public, and be found a useful appendage to every work-table.
HASTINGS, January 1847."  
The book has about 50 knitting patterns and about 20 crochet patterns.  There are only three illustrations, which makes judging them a bit difficult.  I have only looked at the knitting patterns, not being a crocheter.  Many of them are patterns for fancy stitches, and it is up to the knitter to use them in an complete article, but as well as those there are patterns like "A very handsome mat", "A bag to hold wools" and so on.  One of the patterns is for a Shetland shawl, and I tried a small swatch of the centre stitch pattern to see what it looks like.  Here's the complete pattern, so that you can see something of her style:
Shetland wool, and No. 4 pins; about one hundred and sixty stitches; cast on any number of stitches that will divide by six. First row—bring the wool forward, knit one, wool in front, knit one, slip one, knit two as one; bring the slipt stitch over, then knit one. Second row—purl knitting. Third row—wool forward, knit three, wool forward, slip one, knit two as one, and cast over. Fourth row—purl knitting. Fifth row—knit one, slip one, knit two as one, and bring the slipt stitch over, and then knit one, make one, knit one, wool forward. Sixth row—purl knitting. Seventh row—slip one, knit two as one, and cast over, make one, knit three, make one. Eighth row —purl knitting; there are to be two plain stitches at the beginning and end of each row, to form an edge; take up the stitches on each side, and knit the border in the feather pattern, increasing one stitch at each end of the rows, to form the corner. 
It's reasonably clear: she doesn't use abbreviations, and she uses 'purl' and 'knit' as we do now.  (Authors in the 1840s used several different words for purl, such as 'seam', or spelt it 'pearl'.)  It was slightly confusing at first that she uses 'bring the wool forward', 'wool in front', and 'make one' interchangeably to mean 'yarn over'.  And it could be very annoying if you were actually knitting a shawl, and cast on 'about 160 stitches', choosing a number divisible by 6, and then found after the eight rows of the stitch pattern that you should also have two extra stitches at either side.  But I had already planned a border all round my swatch when I read that part of the instructions.

Here it is, unblocked and knitted in 4-ply cotton rather than Shetland wool:

( I really don't like sewing ends in, and when I'm only knitting a swatch to try out a stitch pattern, I don't bother.)

From the swatch, I recognised it as a pattern I have seen before.  I think it was a well-known stitch pattern in the 19th century, and we have an example in the Knitting & Crochet Guild collection on a pincushion.

This is the underside of the pincushion - the other side has a more elaborate pattern, and has had to be mended (probably in Victorian times) because the pins have broken the threads. This side, protected from the pins, is in perfect condition.

Following the first publication of the New Guide to Knitting and Crochet in January 1847, 2nd and 3rd editions were advertised in local papers around the country in August 1847 and April 1848.  So it seems to have been a reasonably successful work.  But meanwhile, on 1st June 1847, Mary Jane Cooper married John Edwards of Aston in Warwickshire, now part of central Birmingham.  There's no clue as to how they met, but the family evidently had Birmingham connections - John Sidney Cooper was born there. She moved with her husband to Birmingham, and by the 1851 census she had set up in New Street as a Dealer in Fancy Goods and Berlin Wool (and had two children).  But she didn't write any more books, as far as I can find out.

In the next post, I'll write more about the family history, and three generations of businesswomen, including Marie Jane. 

Thursday, 25 April 2019


I have mentioned that the Knitting & Crochet Guild collection has moved to a new home - we have now been based in Slaithwaite for two months.   You might like to see some photos of the village.

First, a photo of Britannia Mill, where the collection is now housed.

Like many other buildings in Slaithwaite, it is built from the local sandstone, and (as the name suggests) it was originally an industrial workplace.

Slaithwaite is in the Colne Valley, about 5 miles from Huddersfield.  The River Colne runs from Marsden, at the head of the valley, and on to Huddersfield and eventually joins the River Calder.  At Slaithwaite, it is not a very big river, only a few yards wide.

But in the distant past, it made a steep valley, and in the Industrial Revolution provided enough water power for mills to be established along the river.  There are several huge mill buildings remaining, like the one in the centre of the photo above.  Some have been converted to other uses, some are awaiting renovation, and a few are still used as mills.  The most notable example in Slaithwaite, for knitters, is Spa Mills,  the home of Stylecraft yarns and of Yarn Stories. Spa Mills, built in 1907,  is the huge building in the centre of the photo below.  (Notice the fine array of sheds in the foreground.)  The centre of Slaithwaite, including Britannia Mill, is off to the left of the photo, which also shows houses high up on the side of the valley opposite.  Historically, in this area, mills occupied the land in the valley bottoms, and the mill workers lived on the valley sides, which are often very steep.

A few yards away from the River Colne in the centre of Slaithwaite is the Huddersfield Narrow Canal -  you can see how narrow it is in places from the photo below.

The canal runs from Huddersfield, up the Colne Valley to Marsden, where it goes under the summit of the Pennines by way of Standedge Tunnel, more than 3 miles (nearly 5 km.) long.  The canal continues to Ashton-under-Lyne where it links with the rest of the canal network.

The canal was built to transport goods, of course, and several of the Slaithwaite mills were built next to it, but its use for commercial traffic declined until it closed in 1944.  It was re-opened in 2001, and now it only sees leisure traffic.

Here's another view the canal, showing one of the canal locks, and Spa Mills in the background.

The re-opening of the canal has made a huge difference to Slaithwaite, I think.  There are many independent shops and cafes in the centre, a favourite being the Handmade Bakery and Cafe - it's alongside the canal and sells delicious bread, baked on site.

It's an exciting place to work.  I'm still exploring it - this week I found Spa Park, across the canal and river from Spa Mills.  Slaithwaite did at one time have a mineral spring whose water was claimed to be good for you (presumably the spring still exists somewhere, in fact) and a spa based on the spring.  The River Colne runs alongside Spa Park, looking very rural, although it is so close to the village centre.  According to an information board in the park, kingfishers can be seen on the river near there.  I hope that's true - I have never seen a kingfisher, so it would be thrilling to catch even a glimpse of one. I'll report back if I do.

PS I forgot to mention that Slaithwaite has a train station.  The Colne Valley has been on several important cross-Pennine routes at various times, including the canal and the A62 Manchester-Leeds road (though that is now superseded by the M62). And the Manchester-Leeds railway line runs through Huddersfield, up the valley to Slaithwaite and Marsden.  There are trains from Slaithwaite to Manchester and Leeds, and from there connections to the rest of the rail network.  For most people, the collection is now more accessible than it was at our old site.   

 The railway line runs high above the centre of the village on a viaduct, visible in the first photo of Spa Mills.   Here's a photo of a train on the line, well above the Colne Valley Leisure Centre below. 

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