Ruth Gordon heads to Polperro, where she learns all about how important knitting was to the livelihoods of the men and women there 150 years ago.
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This is Coast.
Seaside peaks are my idea of bliss.
Others find joy flat out on the water's edge, soaking up the rays.
It seems a timeless pastime...
..but, surprisingly, our love affair with sunbathing
is less than 100 years old.
To explore the birth of this new "bronze age",
we're heading to Plymouth.
As the sun cult blossomed, so did their temples of worship.
Tessa's plunging into the joys of the lido.
In the 1930s, a new fashion was changing the complexion
of the nation's leisure.
After years of cowering in the shade,
Britons became fans of the tan.
Lidos became a feature of Britain's seaside scenery.
In the sun AND in the swim - perfect!
In 1929, the Met Office published its first sunshine records.
Eastbourne was a chart topper,
with a singeing 2,081 hours of sunshine over the year.
How could they be so precise?
Meteorologist Sarah Cruddas is here to reveal the secret.
It's actually what's known as a Campbell-Stokes sunshine recorder
and it's actually a very, very simple but very effective way
of measuring sunlight.
Just imagine it like a magnifying glass with a beam of light
coming from the sun. This globe then concentrates the beam of light
onto this specially treated card behind.
As the sun tracks across the sky,
its magnified rays burn a line across the card.
By the end of the day, you would actually get a mark
which would show us when it's been sunny.
That's that line there, so it's charred through.
Then a bit cloudy, so it hasn't charred it.
And then sunshine. And you can tell, on that day, it was slightly cloudier in the afternoon.
This is still the most common way of measuring the amount of sunlight.
For the resorts topping the sunlight charts, times were good.
# Hip-hooray, hip-hooray!
# The sun has got his hat on
# The sun has got his hat on and he's coming out... #
But what about sunburn?
Many fell under the sunbathing spell
but with skin as pale as mine, it could be a painful pastime.
In the 1930s, sun creams were rare.
But the war was about to change that.
I wouldn't much fancy smearing this all over my body,
and yet it was a substance much like this that was used in the 1940s
by the American army in the South Pacific.
It was called red vet pet.
The key ingredient is red petroleum jelly.
They didn't know exactly how,
but that's what protected against the harmful ultraviolet rays.
Post war, scientists started to experiment with new sun lotions.
Chemist Andrew Shaw knows how they progressed beyond simple sunblock.
Not that we'll need it today!
A simple block might be something like zinc oxide,
which is this white powder here.
And simply mix it into an oil base.
-And it will form a nice little emulsion.
It will eventually go white to prevent the sun from coming in.
Imagine that was the surface of your skin.
The light's coming in from above...
-Bouncing off the water.
-I want to float something on the surface of
your skin that's going to block it.
The light's not getting through that. It's a simple block.
But since then, sun creams
have become more sophisticated, haven't they?
Yeah, the chemists have discovered
that molecules with small rings in them are very good at absorbing
just the ultraviolet that's dangerous to you.
To increase the sun protection factor, or SPF,
you can add more ring molecules to a sun cream.
A way to tune your tan.
Andrew has some magic beads to show the SPF in action.
In here I've got some beads that are photoactive and when I open up,
they're going to change colour because of the presence of the UV light.
'Even on the cloudiest of days, the UV still gets through.'
-Oh, they did straightaway.
-Look at that.
-Look at that.
It's quite clever. So if I take some of those beads and coat them with
different SPF factor sunscreens,
they're going to change colour at different times.
Under here we've got 10, 20, 30 and 50.
Here's the 10. It's beginning to change colour.
The 20 and 30 more slowly and the one you might put on your children,
the factor 50, is changing colour really slowly indeed
and, in fact, hardly at all.
And probably, for somebody as fair as me, I would go for that.
-I would, yes.
-You would? You do, too, don't you?
You're a bit peaky!
I'll never be a convert to the sun-worship cult -
probably a good thing, given the great British weather.
But of course, the colder it is on the outside...
..the warmer the water feels.
The Atlantic surf brings thrill-seekers rolling in.
Riding the crest, wind in their sails, it's full-on fun.
But if you prefer a slower pace of life...
..seek out the shelter of Polperro...
..a quiet Cornish village ideal for unwinding.
While some stroll by the sea, others sit and knit.
Ruth is relaxing by trying to maintain her tension.
I've been working on this traditional fisherman's jumper
for... Well, on and off for months now.
And I've had to get to grips with a whole range of new techniques
and fiddly difficult bits.
The Cornish coast, to this day, still echoes with the click-clack
of knitting needles, so I've come along to pick up a few tips
and to learn something more about how this fantastic, fun pastime
grew out of hard graft.
Fishermen throughout the UK were always recognisable
by their hand-knitted jumpers.
And in the 19th and early 20th centuries,
making them was, for some, the only way to put bread upon the table.
I'm casting off with Mary Wright,
who wrote a book on Edwardian knitters.
Mary knows the work that went into creating these coastal classics.
They're amazing things, aren't they?
I mean, they are not just any old jumper, these.
-They're quite special.
-Don't call them a jumper.
-What am I supposed to call them?
-Or knit frock.
Or knit frock - I like that word.
-Knit frock is the term used in Polperro.
-Don't say jumper.
-Never say jumper, but I can say gansey?
You can. And you can say jersey.
-I can say jersey.
-And if I'm in Polperro, I can say...
-BOTH: Knit frock.
This little village has its own knitting vocabulary.
These streets were once awash with women working on their knit frocks.
Women enjoyed being outside.
The light was better, the social life was better.
They could see people and people who live in the villages say that you
could hear the clack of the needles before you turned the corner.
Ladies weren't just making ganseys for the family -
there was money to be made selling them to merchants.
Polperro became a knit frock factory.
Polperro was the centre of contract knitting in the 19th century.
-And in the 20th century.
So where did the ganseys that were knitted in Polperro end up?
They could be packed up and dispatched to anywhere in the country.
Polperro's knitting was strung out all around the coast.
Worn for centuries by seafarers - and some still swear by it today.
I'm meeting Barry Mundy, a fifth-generation fisherman.
-This is such a beautiful harbour, isn't it?
-It's a lovely day out there again.
I see you're wearing a gansey. Was that just put on for us today?
No, no, I wear that every day.
-Yes, it's well over 30 years old.
-It keeps you warm.
It's got that oily texture to it so it's showerproof.
-So the water just sort of stands on the surface...
-..rather than soaking in.
-Yes, that's right.
It's more than workwear.
Fishermen have a proud attachment to their ganseys.
When I was fishing first, you would have worn it to funerals
and, sort of, special occasions.
It was really the...
Well, something like the uniform of a fisherman, really, I suppose.
Knitting and fishing have long been intertwined,
sharing words such as casting off and fisherman's rib.
And some believe the dextrous hands of fishermen,
used to repairing fishing nets, are perfect for knitting.
Let's put Barry and that theory to the test.
-So, as a man who has worn a gansey for 30 years...
-..can you make one?
I think I'd struggle, I think.
-This is my beginner's knitting pack.
So we're going to go through the back of that loop towards there.
-Then around the needle.
-..and slip it off.
-Well, let's have a go, let's have a go.
Right, it's through there...
-That's the one.
BOTH: Around there.
Oh, you took an extra stitch - you just made it bigger.
-You've got a double now.
I think I am better at the old net mending, somehow.
You'll get the hang of it. You're not bad.
-And it is men's work, this is.
Knitting used to be one of those things that everybody did -
men and women both - in order to earn a living.
The trouble is, if I get too good at this,
my wife is going to want me to knit her a gansey.
100 years ago, knitting and fishing
were both part of the fabric of coastal life.
As the men worked at sea...
..the women waited.
But their hands were never idle.
This photograph shows a lady knitting
while watching for fishing boats to return.
And this is Polperro.
But she's doing her knitting.
-Some bloke lounging about behind her.
And she's not only knitting but she's keeping an eye on...
-On what's out at sea.
-..what's happening out at sea.
-That's a good position to watch.
-Waiting for your man to come home.
What was once a chore is now done for fun.
Polperro's women still like to sit and stitch.
And there's a further twist in the knitting yarn...
Along the coast, a band of women have taken up their needles
with a new mission in mind -
to weave a little magic.
These are the Graffiti Grannies.
They work incognito -
keeping their identity under wraps is part of the fun.
We like to give whatever we knit away
to the public.
-Why are you all wearing masks?
-Because we like to give it away
anonymously. We go out in the middle of the night and we put it
all around different towns and villages,
so that people can take it and enjoy it.
It's a huge amount of work, so why do you do it?
We enjoy seeing the pleasure that other people get out of it.
We like to put a smile on people's faces and that's what we do.
Following a century-old pattern,
the women of Cornwall still have this shore nicely stitched up.
What brings joy to Ruth Goodman is knitting. To get some tips for completing a complex fisherman's jumper, Ruth heads to pretty Polperro. Ruth learns how 150 years ago in this picturesque Cornish harvour town, women and men's livelihoods depended on their skills at 'contract knitting', making workwear to order.
Polperro's famous woollens were sold all around British shores and beyond. Ruth discovers why seafarers placed so much faith in their fisherman's jumpers and why they should never actually be called jumpers! She also meets the charming 'Graffiti Grannies', a mysterious bunch of publc spirited womenwho hide their identity; knitting in secret they leave little woollen treats scattered around the Cornish coast for people to enjoy for free.
Tessa Dunlop takes the plunge into the glamorous history of British lidos, those temples of sun-worshippng pleasure which sprang up around our shores in the 1930s.