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The Gansey Girl – one family’s memories

Dave Stork shares memories of his childhood growing up in the fishing village of Flamborough and his family’s close ties with the fishing industry.

The Gansey Girl, designed by Steve Carvill, is situated on Bridlington’s north pier as a tribute to fishing families along the east coast.

The bronze sculpture depicts a young woman knitting a gansey, the traditional jumper worn by fishermen.

All fishing families had their own pattern of gansey and the pattern on the Gansey Girl statue at Bridlington is the Stork family pattern.

Dave Stork

Dave, who lives in Beeford with his wife Pauline, told the Wolds Weekly how his grandmother would knit ganseys for his grandfather Tom Stork, who was a fisherman in Flamborough.

Each gansey had a unique pattern which varied from village to village and family to family and the pattern portrayed in the Gansey Girl statue is of that worn by the Stork family.

Dave said: “All fishing families had their own pattern of gansey and the pattern on the Gansey Girl statue at Bridlington is the Stork family pattern.

Dave Stork

“My grandfather was a fisherman in Flamborough and my grandma Stork, nee Annie Knaggs, who originally came from Driffield, knitted many ganseys.

“The ganseys each had their own pattern so that if there was an accident or a fisherman drowned, they could be identified by their gansey as being from a particular village or family.

“They also used to knit the initials of the fisherman under the armpit to help with identification.”

A gansey is a hardwearing, hand knitted, woollen jumper which has been worn by fishermen around the coast of Britain for many years to keep them warm and dry in the harshest conditions at sea.

They were usually made by mothers, wives and sweethearts and the patterns were passed down the generations via word of mouth – they weren’t written down.

The ganseys are knitted without seams, all in one piece on five or more small needles using very fine, hardwearing four or five ply wool.

They are knitted very tightly to make them weatherproof. The tighter the knitting, the more water and weatherproof it is.

The stitch patterns, such as anchors, diamonds, cables, lightning, ropes and ladders, symbolised the everyday things in the fisherfolk’s lives.

Dave’s grandmother came from Driffield.

Dave said seeing the photo evoked many memories of his childhood growing up in the fishing village of Flamborough and his family’s close ties with the fishing industry.

He said: “My grandparents were married in the 1890s. My grandmother, who died just before I was born, came from Driffield. She lived in Taylors Cottage on Westgate and had relatives in Nafferton and Langtoft.

“When they were married, they lived in Flamborough, where my grandfather was a fisherman and part of the crew on the rowing lifeboat, the Matthew Middlewood.

“During the First World War, they moved to Spurn, where my grandfather worked on Spurn lifeboat.

“In those days, it was all fishermen who were on the lifeboats.

“It was pretty hard going to sea, especially so in bad weather; they didn’t want to go but they had to earn a living. If they didn’t go to sea, they didn’t have anything to eat.

“Because of these difficulties, my grandmother thought it would be better to get a trade and so my dad became a bricklayer rather than a fisherman.

“As a child growing up in Flamborough, which was a fishing and farming village, I remember the fishermen used to boil up tar and put their crab pots and rope in it and stretch the ropes out between the telegraph poles.

“They were very superstitious. You couldn’t mention certain animals’ names when they were baiting a line or preparing a crab pot.

Dave’s grandfather was a fisherman.

“My brother, who was 15 years older than me, was mischievous and used to run up and down the passage at my grandfather’s house and shout rabbit, pig and donkey, and the line that had been baited would be left behind and wouldn’t be taken to sea that day.

“You also couldn’t whistle because it would cause a wind.

“All the fishermen wore ganseys. They were a working garment and in Flamborough all the wool came from the shop in the village which was owned by Annie Tant.

“You still see locals in Flamborough wearing them today and my grandmother passed down the pattern to my mother, who passed it onto my wife, who knitted me my gansey.”

Pauline, who knitted the gansey from the family pattern around 30 years ago, said it is a tradition she hopes will continue.

“The Stork pattern depicts ropes, nets, the beach and sea,” she said.

“I used size 14 round needles and used a special four ply wool which I bought in Flamborough.

“The gansey is knitted in one piece. You don’t knit the sleeves separately, you start at the shoulder and work down and cast off at the cuffs, so if the cuffs get scruffy you can replace them.

“The wool is knitted so tightly, so it is wind and waterproof.

“Dave’s mum used to say that you are supposed to take the gansey down to beach to get it wet because if it had been wet once, it wouldn’t get wet again – it was a superstition to keep the fishermen dry.

“The reason Steve (Carvill) used the Flamborough gansey on the statue is because Bridlington didn’t have a gansey pattern, nor did Hull, because they used to go out on the bigger boats. The villages and towns further north such as Flamborough, Filey and Whitby all have their own patterns.

“The sculpture’s plinth has moulded fish which all bear the names of fishing families and the Stork name is on one of those fish.

“The pattern will be passed down in the family and I hope it will be worn by generations to come to keep the tradition going.”

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