In the coastal communities up and down Britain fishermen wore “ganseys” knitted for them by their womenfolk (although some men were knitters too). Each coastal community had its own variation of a gansey. Here in North Devon, the fishing community of Appledore had their “frock”.
The Appledore frock was knitted with dark blue wool, and you could tell a knitter from their blue fingers as the wool stained them during their work. It was knitted in the round on double pointed needles, called “prangs”, using a very fine hardwearing 4 or 5ply wool. Knitting an adult sized garment of this density means lugging around a heavy burden, and the knitters wore a “tack”, a piece of thick leather tied to the knitter’s waist to take some of the strain.
Reputedly, the variation in patterns was said to enable the wearer to be identified should he drown at sea, but, nobody has been able to find conclusive proof that this was ever really so. Some personal adaptations did take place. There is one story of an Appledore boy who joined the Royal Navy, and accused another sailor of having stolen his jersey. The Captain asked how he could know it was his jersey, when one jersey looked just like another. “Oh, no, sir” said the boy, “my mother knitted that one and if you look inside the neck you will find a lock of her hair knitted into the shoulder”.
Women in Appledore are still making frocks. This one was made by Ann Wells.