Knitting belts

Knitting belts

Countryman Magazine

In a recent Countryman magazine, a reader asked if anyone could identify an object found in Norfolk.

It was a knitting belt.

knitting belt

My own knitting belt

I have always wondered how widespread the use of the knitting belt was.

Prior to the commercially produced knitting belt, a straw version, a wisp, was used by tucking it into the waistband, and knitting needles could then be stuck into the end.

wisp - early knitting belt

A straw wisp – an early version of the knitting belt

These and wooden versions were used in many areas of the UK.

Apparently, it is thought that although other devices were once used to support the right needle in the UK and elsewhere, the knitting belt is perhaps unique to Shetland, where they are called “makkin belts”.

However, they were possibly also used in the north east of Scotland. I know I have seen one in a museum in Nairn, near Inverness.


Knitters in Shetland wore their belts everywhere, walking home with a “kishie” full of peat, gathered with other knitters around the fire, the belt would still be in use because there was still knitting to be done.

Two women carrying kishies

Two women carrying kishies.
Photo Source: Shetland Museum

The “makkin belt” consisted of a leather pad stuffed with horsehair and attached to a belt. The technique requires the use of double point needles.

Shetlanders still use them.

So, how did a knitting belt  come to be found in Norfolk?

I wonder if  gutter girls from Shetland, who followed the herring all down the Scottish coast and as far as Great Yarmouth, gutting the herring, (taking their knitting with them to work on when off duty) introduced the knitting belt to others as they traveled.

Gutter Lasses

Gutter lasses knitting in front of barrels.
Photo Source: Shetland Museum

If anyone has any information about knitting belts used elsewhere, I would love to know!

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Walk to Sandwick beach

A glorious May afternoon in Unst, warm but breezy, so I went for a walk along Sandwick Beach.

sheep beach

A beautiful sandy beach for a walk, but also lots of interest to see.

tirricks

Arctic terns (known as Tirricks in Shetland) have always nested here, but in much less numbers these days

otter aboot

Evidence of an otter about, and a very brief glimpse before he disappeared into a burrow to rest up in the heat of the day, postprandial rest maybe!

The Sandwick area has been occupied throughout history and traces of the various occupants (pictish/late iron age, norse) have been documented.

Sandwick Map

Map showing Sandwick Beach. Click on the map to go to the zoom-able version on the NLS website

Excavations have unearthed some of the stories (see the Sandwick Report).

An earlier excavation further along the beach shows a Viking longhouse.

longhouse

Viking Longhouse excavation

Much later there was a settlement of crofts above the beach, until those were cleared or abandoned.

hooses above beach

Crofts above the Sandwick beach

rudgings

“Rudgings” – heaps of stones that have been carefully gathered off the rigs (fields).

Further along from the end of the beach, along the headland, there is a churchyard with a chapel at Framgord.

yard

Sandwick burial ground

ancient stones 2

Sandwick burial ground – Some of the headstones date to medieval times.

3 graves

Graves of three members of the crew of S/S “Hop” from Bergen

In a corner of the yard there are three graves, three members of the crew of S/S “Hop” from Bergen, torpedoed 4.2.1940. The small Norwegian freighter had  a crew of 15 and all were lost.

S S Hop

Memorial to the crew of S/S “Hop” from Bergen

Well worth walking through the area, glimpsing traces of the history.

A trail for the area can be downloaded at the Shetland Amenity Website.

Light Keepers recorded at home

Muckle Flugga Lighthouse

Muckle Flugga from the seaward side
cc-by-sa/2.0 – © Mike Penningtongeograph.org.uk/p/941026

The North Unst Lighthouse, or as it is now known, Muckle Flugga Lighthouse, was one of the few lighthouses in Scotland which had a separate shore station that served as accommodation for the lighthouse keepers when they were off duty. Three Light Keepers would be on duty at any one time, and the others would be on shore leave.

Lighthouse Shore Station

The Shore Station, Burrafirth
cc-by-sa/2.0 – © Mike Penningtongeograph.org.uk/p/311395

In the census returns for Unst, you can see the Light Keepers recorded in the census at the Lighthouse, and their families recorded in the shore station.

1871 Census

ROAD, STREET, &c., and
No. or NAME of HOUSE.
NAME and Surname of each
Person.
RELATION
to Head of
Family
CON-
DITION
AGE
of
Rank, Profession, or OCCUPATION
Males Females
Light House Robert Burnett Head Mar 44 Principal Light Keeper
William Anderson Assistant Mar 37 Principal Assistant Keeper
Peter Anderson Assistant Mar 34 Assistant Light Keeper

1871 Census

ROAD, STREET, &c., and
No. or NAME of HOUSE.
NAME and Surname of each
Person.
RELATION
to Head of
Family
CON-
DITION
AGE
of
Rank, Profession, or OCCUPATION
Males Females
Light House Shore Station Elizabeth Anderson Head Mar 37 Light Keeper’s Wife
Laurence     Do Son 15 Scholar
Grace         Do Daur 11 Scholar
Catherine     Do Daur 5     Do

Except that is for 1861.

In 1861, the Light Keepers are all recorded as living with their families in the shore station, and there is no record of anyone at the Lighthouse. Now 1861 is some 134 years before the Lighthouse was automated in 1995, so there were definitely Light Keepers on site. Perhaps instead the problem was that this was the first census since the Lighthouse was built. It was first lit on 1 January 1858, so perhaps the enumerator simply wasn’t familiar with how he was supposed to record the keepers.

At the bottom of Page 25, of the 1861 census for Unst, Enumeration District 2, there is the following note:-

15 May 1862. Messrs Stevenson Engineers state 3 Lightkeepers were on the Lighthouse which is on the Island of Muckle Flugga. The ??????? with wives & famililes on Unst.

I’m not quite able to decipher all the words in the last sentence so an image is shown below if any of you can decipher it. However, you get the gist of it. They weren’t where the enumerator said they were!

Light Keepers Census Note

Light Keepers Census Note

Oops!

Christmas in my childhood

I recently got asked to come to the local nursery and talk to the pre-schoolers about what Christmas was like when I was a child.

Did that make me feel old? Well yes it did!

Anyway, I thought about what I could tell them.

I tried to get them to imagine a small croft house, small rooms, no heating apart from the living room with its Raeburn cooker.

I took in an old oil lamp and asked them to imagine –

No electricity, no lights, no TV, no computers, no I pads etc.

Then Christmas itself, no room for a Christmas tree in the small living room that had to hold a table where we ate Christmas lunch.

No fairy lights of course.

We decorated with Christmas cards and paper chains.

I can remember when we started to get those fold out bells.

decorations 1970s

My older brother liked to try and find the hidden presents (under the bed) but I liked a surprise.

Presents were inexpensive items and some made by my Dad – a cradle for a doll, a basic doll’s house that we could go on to decorate and furnish from scraps of wallpaper and furniture made from matchboxes etc.

I remember some very snowy weather in the run up to Christmas, and the fear that the big parcel from friends in London would not be able to get through to us.

That parcel was such a delight, with lots of small items.

Spices and other items for our Mum who used to be a cook in London, and missed all sorts of items to use in her cooking, which obviously were not to be found in Unst.

Pomegranates I remember used to come in the box.

One year I got a plastic hen, and when pushed down she laid an egg.

That has remained in my memory all these years so obviously I really liked it!

Christmas lunch was a hen from the flock that had to be killed and cooked skilfully by our mother, otherwise it would surely have been a tough old bird.

All the trimmings to go with the bird and make the feast go further

then Christmas pudding, Christmas cake etc.

No TV in those early days, so radio perhaps and lots of board games, as well as the new toys to play with.  A pleasant time was had by all, and we didn’t have or need to spend vast amounts of money to achieve that enjoyment.

Rhoda Wibbie Pat

Adding context to census addresses

I’m currently going through an exercise to normalise the spelling of all the place names in my Unst Family Tree – every census seems to invent a different spelling for the same house! At the same time I’m adding a ‘district’ to each house as I’m aware of a number of house names that are not unique within the island of Unst; “Garden” is a house in Colvadale and a house in Snarravoe for example (as I’ve previously written).

The absolute need to do this was illustrated to me when I found this particular couple.

Andrew Smith (b. 1836) m. Jane Winwick (b.1835)
1881: Middleton Ancestry Icon 1881: Middleton Ancestry Icon
married
1891: Middletown Ancestry Icon
1901: Middletown Ancestry Icon

Above is what you would discover about the couple (from 1881 onwards) using just Ancestry transcriptions. You would be forgiven for thinking that they live in the same house before and after the marriage (spelling variations being what they are), AND that they lived in the same house as each other before they married.

If, however, you look at the census pages with the neighbouring houses in context, your understanding of this couples residence would be as follows.

Andrew Smith (b. 1836) m. Jane Winwick (b.1835)
1881: Middleton, Muness 1881: Middleton, Colvadale
married
1891: Middletown, Muness
1901: Middletown, Muness

So they lived several miles apart before they married, and after being married they lived in the house where Andrew lived, in Muness. The spellings of both houses use both spellings throughout the census returns over the decades.

If you then follow this up with the marriage record for this couple, from Scotland’s People, it pulls it altogether, giving their addresses at the time of marriage.

Andrew Smith (b. 1836) m. Jane Winwick (b.1835)
1881: Middleton, Muness 1881: Middleton, Colvadale
1883: Muness 1883: Colvadale
married
1 Mar 1883
Middleton, Colvadale Scotlands People icon
1891: Middletown, Muness
1901: Middletown, Muness

I can’t stress enough how important taking all records in their full context and understanding the local area where you are researching.

Spelling of Place Names

I was prompted to write this post after I saw these two tweets.

I have recently got myself a copy of TNG to work with privately (some time in the future I intend to get all my research online using it) and one of the features I am very taken with is the ability to view all your place names used in the various facts attached to each person in your tree. I was aware that there were different spellings of many of the place names in Unst throughout the records, but until I started to use TNG I couldn’t see the extent of differences.

It’s allowing me to easily normalise the spellings I use throughout my tree so that it is clear when the same place is being named. I knew a time would come when this normalisation task would need to be done, and I had originally imagined that I would choose the spelling of place names based on those used on maps. However, now that I’ve come to actually do the task, I have made a different decision.

I have found with a number of the place names that I have started looking at, that the most commonly used spelling is not the same as the one on the maps, and I have decided that it is more appropriate to use the most commonly used spelling as written by a local – all census enumerators were local men – rather than the spelling on a map created by outsiders to the area.

In normalising the place names I don’t intend to throw away all the other spellings, they will be kept as alternate spellings against each place name.

Here are a few examples of the place names that I’ve seen multiple spellings for through the various records for Unst, with an asterisk marking the chosen spelling.

Map of Petester

Map showing the houses of Petester. Click on the map to go to the zoom-able version on NLS the website

Spellings
Petester
Petister *
Pettister
Spellings
Feall
Feal *
Phael
Phail
Phaill
Pheal *
Pheall
Phiall
Fjeal
Map of Feall

Map showing the houses of Feall. Click on the map to go to the zoom-able version on NLS the website

Muriscoe

Map showing Murrasko. Click on the map to go to the zoom-able version on NLS the website

Spellings
Mooraskoe
Muirescoe
Muirskoe
Mures Coe
Muriascoe
Murris Coe
Murrisgio
No strong favourite. Different in every document!