A blog for anyone with an interest in Polperro, publishing and people... with occasional musings on history and humanity.
Posted on March 20, 2012
Cornish fishermen have traditionally worn knitted ‘guernseys’ or ‘jerseys’ for several centuries, but in Polperro they are known as knit-frocks. These woollen working garments were invariably knitted by the wives and daughters of the men, often using special patterns unique to a particular family.
Many of the Polperro knit-frock patterns survive to this day, largely thanks to Mary Wright, a Cornish knitting expert who has researched them for her book Cornish Guernseys & Knit-frocks.
Her book contains 30 distinct knitting patterns, some of which can be seen in photographs dating back to the 19th century taken by one of Cornwall’s pioneer photographers, Lewis Harding.
Harding was the grandson of Sir Harry Trelawny, the eccentric baronet whose family seat, Trelawne, is located just above Polperro. The wet plate collodion process used by Harding was one of the first photographic procedures invented, but the cumbersome equipment required meant that almost all his photographs were of the nearby inhabitants of the fishing village, including a remarkable series of 80 portraits of the fishermen themselves.
His portrait of Richard Searle (right) clearly shows the fine pattern detail of his knit-frock 150 years later and is one of the patterns included in Mary Wright’s book, still popular with knitting enthusiasts today.