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Fishing ganseys donated to Wick museum


By David G Scott


A SELECTION of beautifully crafted ganseys based on patterns worn by local fishermen has been donated to Wick Heritage Museum.

A gansey is a hard-wearing, hand-knitted, woollen jumper which was worn by fishing crews around the British coast for many years.

Ian Leith (left) from Wick Heritage Museum beside Gordon Reid and the ganseys he knitted.Picture: DGS
Ian Leith (left) from Wick Heritage Museum beside Gordon Reid and the ganseys he knitted.Picture: DGS

A series of the ganseys created by Nucleus archivist Gordon Reid will be shown at a special open day at the museum on January 2, and will then be on permanent display when the museum reopens to the public in the spring.

"Ganseys are traditional fishermen's pullovers, mostly associated with the herring fishing industry round the coast of Britain," Gordon said.

"They're richly patterned and fishermen would usually have two – one being the 'Sunday best' which would be particularly ornate."

Ganseys often had intricate patterns knitted within them that often denoted the area a fisherman was from.
Ganseys often had intricate patterns knitted within them that often denoted the area a fisherman was from.

Gordon knitted the eight ganseys over many hours and said he found it good therapy to keep his blood pressure down.

Some of the patterns are abstract but others show cables, ladders and steps that would be of significance within the daily life of a fisherman.

Traditionally, each gansey had a unique pattern which varied from place to place and from family to family. If there was a shipwreck or accident with fatalities, the bodies washed up on the shore could be identified by their gansey as being from a particular town or village and from a particular family. In this way the fisherman could be returned for burial.

An image from the Johnston Collection showing local fishermen wearing ganseys. Picture reproduced courtesy of the Wick Society / Johnston Collection
An image from the Johnston Collection showing local fishermen wearing ganseys. Picture reproduced courtesy of the Wick Society / Johnston Collection

It takes around six weeks to knit a gansey by hand. 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.

Gordon, who lives in Wick, said: "I knitted them with a circular needle and the design is unique to the garment.

"The gansey is knitted as a tube and there are no seams. It's made from Guernsey five-ply [wool] which is known as 'fisherman's iron' because it knits up so tight."

Gordon's designs are recreations of age-old patterns that would have been worn by fishermen in Wick and he said that he enjoyed knitting them.

"It's a very relaxing thing to do. I can only describe it as being akin to stroking a cat," he said.

Gordon Reid (left) holds a gansey he knitted along with Ian Leith from Wick Heritage Museum. Pictures: DGS
Gordon Reid (left) holds a gansey he knitted along with Ian Leith from Wick Heritage Museum. Pictures: DGS

Ian Leith, chairman of the Wick Society, the voluntary group that runs the museum, said: "This is a valuable addition to the heritage of the town and we're delighted to receive them from Gordon.

"They have patterns recreated from photos in the Johnston Collection so they are unique items for the Wick Heritage Museum."

The ganseys will be on show at the museum's open day on January 2. The centre will be free to visit on the day and is open from 10am to 5pm. Also on show will be the photographic collection from McDonald Photographers which featured in a one-day exhibition at Wick St Fergus Church hall during gala week.



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