The tale of Keziah Throp, which I shared with you last week, cleverly ends with a verse from the children’s nursery rhyme, ‘Pop Goes The Weasel’. We were told that Keziah’s husband had taught their parrot to sing this, and then it unfolded that some time after the mysterious disappearances of the Throps and their pets some local lads heard the ghostly voices of a bird, a man and a woman singing the rhyme in an underground cavern near the Throp’s farm. Though I loved this quirky ending, it wasn’t until I had told the story to Penelope Hemingway that I properly understood it.
Exhibiting under the name and guise of ‘The Luddites‘, Penelope and her husband are a special feature at Yorkshire wool events. Penelope demonstrates spinning with a ‘great wheel’ (aka a ‘walking wheel’) and knitting with a Yorkshire goosewing style knitting stick in what is a wonderful re-enactment of some of the skills practised by rural Yorkshire folk in the early nineteenth century. At the British Wool Show in Thirsk last weekend she was very appropriately spinning at her great wheel as I read to her the fascinating story about the thrangness of Keziah Throp. Reading in this context a Yorkshire folk tale about spinning and knitting was a perfect experience of synchronicity!
After I finished reading the tale Penelope asked me if I know what a weasel is. I answered of course that it is a little furry animal like a ferret, and as I did so nostalgic thoughts of The Wind in the Willows and Harry Potter rippled through my mind. However, I knew as I said it that this was the wrong answer, because the way she had asked the question hinted at a special significance. The alternative answer was wonderfully relevant to spinning and knitting, and thus explained the particularly quirky ending to the tale of Keziah Throp.
In her explanation of what a weasel is Penelope directed me to one of my favourite books; George Walker’s costume of Yorkshire, which was written in 1814, and which was therefore contemporary with the historical Luddites. Indeed, Penelope uses one of the pictures from The Costume of Yorkshire in her show display, and this was the picture that she directed me to in her explanation.
This Saturday Marie and I went to the British Library in London to research some Victorian knitting books and tracts as part of our ongoing preparation for my Yorkshire Knitting Tour. Because of my love for it, and following Penelope’s explanation, we had also asked to view an original 1814 copy of The Costume of Yorkshire. It was very special to see the original hand-coloured pictures that I am so familiar with. This is a photo we took of the picture Penelope referred me to:
See the old lady in the background winding a skein of yarn using a wooden contraption on her lap? That is a weasel! Some weasels have special mechanisms that make a ‘pop’ sound with each revolution, or when a full skein has been wound, thus enabling the operator to easily wind skeins of a specific length. Penelope informed me that the standard skein length was 560 yards. It is now obvious to me that this is what is being referred to in the famous ‘Pop Goes The Weasel’ nursery rhyme, and not, as my clever friend Sarah Alderson had previously conjectured, a furry animal exploding after eating too much rice and treacle!
Sadly some of the pages in the British Library’s first edition of The Costume of Yorkshire are somewhat damaged, as seen in the top right corner of the ‘Woman Spinning’ picture above. The damage was even worse on the Wensleydale Knitters page:
In a poignant reminder of a dark period in British history, we discovered the cause of the damage when we reached the back of the book. Sometime after the book was damaged the library had helpfully placed a small label at the bottom of the inside back cover: