William Riley
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William Riley

Gansey Sunday

Crowds flocked to the second Gansey Sunday at Old St Stephen's Church in Robin Hood's Bay, where the William Riley was displayed where Evensong followed at 3pm. Deb Gillanders, volunteer custodian arranged for the church to display traditional east coast fishermen’s jumpers, she said: “at our heritage week end we celebrate the farming harvest by focussing not on the loaves but on the fishes.

"The church was festooned with traditional fishermen’s jumpers ganseys from the Whitby area including the oldest which was fifty years old, a Seahouses pattern representing the tree of life. This was knitted by Marjorie Fewster, a well-known Bay knitter who died 18 months ago." “Jude Readman donated several ganseys which had been knitted in more recent years by her mother Dorothy Readman."

Times were hard for the fisherfolk along Yorkshire’s coast and survival at the time depended upon what state of the art equipment and clothing was available. The gansey, a jumper knitted from thick wool that provided much needed protection from the elements without impeding the wearer’s movements was a vital factor. Ganseys were woven by mothers, daughters and sweethearts while the men were at sea helping to at least occupy their minds during time of concern.

Pictured from left, Romy Halder, Rev Michael Waters and Deb Gillanders with some of the ganseys.

At a time when communities were much more isolated, each fishing village would have their own distinctive pattern, woven into the gansey itself, many of which are still readily identifiable. The Whitby gansey is distinguishable from a Scarborough or Filey gansey, with individual families adding their own twist to the village’s design making them unique to their own family members. Such was the durable nature of the garment that the gansey was often passed down between generations. In the event of a tragic sea accident, the jumpers design and make meant it would remain firmly attached to casualty who could therefore be identified far easier.

Captain Neilson

Miss Gillanders wore a Whitby pattern gansey on the day knitted by Alf Hildred who still knits ganseys today whilst Romy Halder wore a gansey which had been given to her mum, Shelley Anderson, when she was just eight years old

The William Riley pictured at the top of Robin Hoods Bay.

(Photograph courtesy of Alan Wastell)


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