She was one of the last of the ‘Terrible Knitters of Dent’, and the only one who can be identified with specific extant knits; several Dales pattern gloves in the Wordsworth collection and the Dales Countryside Museum collection. We’ve now traced Mary Allen, and lots of other Dent knitters in census records, so this weekend we went back to Dent to see if we could work out which specific houses they lived in.
It was raining when we arrived, and so we decided to sit in Stone Close café with some coffee, tea and cake whilst checking over our research materials to plan where to look first. This decision was a huge stroke of luck, because the elderly couple at the table next to us asked what we were doing. That’s how we met Jack Sedgwick and his wife, lifelong residents of Dent who are both descended from Dent knitters! Chatting with them was an absolute delight, and we gleaned a few nuggets of information to help us with our quest. Firstly, they were able to confirm that we were correct in our theory about which building had been the King’s Arms, because it is the cottage where they now live! Marie took out our papers, and told them who lived there in the latter half of the 19th century; Jane Lambert, the inn-keeper’s widow. She was, of course, a professional knitter.
Next, we wandered about the village in the rain, calculating the route the census agents took, and comparing old photographs to the present day housing in an effort to work out which cottage was inhabited by the Stephensons. We’ve narrowed it down to one of a row of three.
We then wandered past Sophie’s Wild Woollens. It was closed, but looking through the window we were delighted to spy a collection of knitting sheaths in a cabinet inside the shop. We’ll be back!
Round past Seeds Ghyll and up to the George and Dragon, where we once more escaped the rain for a drink (J2O for me and a hot chocolate for Marie) and to check some details on our research papers. It was from our position here, with a few dashes outside to check some visual clues, that we worked out exactly where Mary Allen lived, and her near neighbour too, another glove knitter called Mary.
We then wandered down the street to enjoy our newfound specialist knowledge, and to compare the road to an old picture of Dent that shows remnants of the knitting galleries that used to jut out from the upper stories of the cottages. While standing there our new friend Jack stopped his car next to us to ask how we were doing with the quest. He’ll now be in no doubt about how enthusiastic we are in that quest, as we we could hardly contain our excitement when pointing out Mary Allen’s house to him.
I’ve purchased an antique coloured print of one of the knitting gallery pictures that we referred to. This means I’ll be able to include a high-resolution version in the book about Dales knitters that I’m planning. We’ll also show this and other antique pictures of the village to guests during our visit to Dent on next summer’s Yorkshire Knitting Tour.