One of the online resources Marie and I use in our search for antique knitting books is this list which helps us with knowing what to search for, and with cataloguing our finds. It is this list which first alerted us to the existence of a Yorkshire publisher of knitting books, a Mr Thomas Gill of Easingwold. We immediately wanted to know more about him and, of course, to acquire a copy of the listed book, ‘The Handbook of Knitting’, which was listed without a named author. Surely he had not written it himself?
Throughout our searches Marie and I have experienced extremely good fortune, with desired information and titles almost falling into our laps. No sooner did we know that we wanted a book called ‘The Handbook of Knitting’ published by a Mr Thomas Gill of Easingwold circa 1845, than we found one, a second edition.
With our friend Barbara Smith, we have learned interesting things about Mr Thomas Gill. I am particularly interested in his history, as I used to live in Easingwold. I did the bulk of my nurse training there (before becoming a designer I was first a nurse, then a teacher). Claypenny Hospital was a ‘special hospital’ for people with learning disabilities that in Victorian times had been a workhouse. It was here that I met the man, a fellow nurse, who became my first husband. Following our wedding we moved to a house in a row of cottages near a village called Raskelf. This is relevant information, because at Station Cottages our immediate neighbour was a lady called Dot who worked for the ‘Easingwold Advertiser’, and brought us a free copy every Friday. A few weeks ago I learned that the Easingwold Advertiser was founded by none other than Thomas Gill!
Having lived in Easingwold, which is a small market town about 15 miles north of York, barely larger than a village, I am familiar with many of the street names. However I do not recall an ‘Amen Corner’, which is given beside Thomas’s name in the front of our copy of The Handbook of Knitting. I’ve also searched online and found no reference to this part of Easingwold, so think it must be a name that has fallen out of use. It’s an intriguing name, and I wonder if it was a preaching place when John Wesley was travelling the land?
Thomas Gill himself has been easier to trace, and his life is a noble tale with a very sad ending. In Victorian trade directories we have found his printing business listed as being in the ‘Market Place’ (Easingwold’s tiny square town centre). He himself is listed as a shopkeeper in Uppleby. This delights me as I know Uppleby very well. It is a charming wide Georgian lane running along the hillside just below the hospital where I worked. From the nurses home at Claypenny I had to walk along Uppleby to get to the town centre. Lovely grass verges and trees beside pavements that the historic houses immediately front onto.
So, his home address tell us that Thomas Gill was a well-to-do gentleman. We already knew this though as he was also a local historian, who wrote a book about the history of Easingwold, and was involved in excavating a Roman villa in a nearby village. The floor mosaic from this villa is now at the York Museum.
Alas, despite having made such fantastic contributions to our history, both in general terms, and in terms of early knitting literature, Thomas came to a sad end. In 1862 he was declared bankrupt, and made his way to the workhouse in York, where he died twenty years later, in 1882.
Since finding our first edition of The Handbook of Knitting we have also acquired a later edition, bearing the name of the author, a ‘Mlle de Lorette’, and avertisements for several other knitting books written by her. We are increasingly convinced that ‘Mlle de Lorette’ was a nom de plume, as we have been unable to find any such person in census or newspaper records. So she remains a mystery!