The Life and Times of Guernsey Sweaters - Guernsey Woollens
A proper Guernsey sweater is the sort of no-nonsense classic sweater that every man should have in his winter wardrobe. It feels like woollen chain-mail - in a good way - it's so thick and robust. Fantastic. Wear one of these and then go and feel some of the excuses for sweaters that they sell on the high street. Pah! Built to last to say the least, these things can last for decades. This one of mine is in First World War green with the traditional 'boat' neckline.
The Sweater of Choice for Fishermen, Servicemen and Criminals
The Guernsey sweater originates on Guernsey in the Channel Islands as sweater of choice for fishermen because it was hard wearing, warm and could resist water due to the tightness of its weave. It has a claim to be an item of British national dress, apparently. (Could a similar claim be made for a Barbour wax jacket? I think so.)
Such a practical garment would find a use in Her Majesty's Armed Forces, and was adopted by the Royal Navy and British Army in appropriate colours. I believe RLNI boat crews are still issued with Guernseys.
Fishermen and servicemen, yes, but also criminals? Law-breakers need to keep warm too. Take James Williams (above). He wouldn't be seen committing acts of larceny in 1902 North Shields, England without his short-sleeved Guernsey. H'mm, short-sleeved Guernsey — there's a thought. I spotted that flicking through the pictures of Edwardian criminals put up by Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums. At a time when most men wore suits, shirts and ties, I'm always interested in the casual end of dress at that time. Remember the Criminally Nice Sweater?
History Spot: In the 19th century Nelson recommended Guernseys for the navy, and they were issued to a British garrison in Nova Scotia as part of their winter equipment.
But Where Can I Get Hold of a Guernsey
? Answer: Guernsey Woollens
You'll be pleased to find that you can still buy an original Guernsey sweater made in Guernsey.
Guernsey Woollens have a workshop in the Parish of Vale on the island of Guernsey.
The company is run and owned by Phil Walker and Arthur Eldridge who met in the 70's when they worked for the same knitwear company in the UK. Watching a British textile industry battered by the low production costs of the Far East, their mission is to preserve the true Guernsey. The sweaters are knitted on machines, then hand-finished and steamed.
It's hard to break the seemingly insatiable consumer appetite for disposable, cheaply-made fashion, but the success of Guernsey Woollens means the tide can be turned. The company makes 200 Guernseys a week using a blend of traditional and modern manufacturing methods. Its biggest markets are the UK mainland, Europe, Canada, Japan and the United States.
Such is the practicality of the Guernsey sweater that a consignment saw front-line service with the Desert Rats in Iraq. In 2006, the Brigadier of the 7th Armoured brigade commissioned Guernsey Woollens to make several hundred sweaters complete with Desert Rat insignia on the left arm for their campaign.
They have also supplied the forces in Afghanistan and regiments including the Mercian, the Royal Tank and the Intelligence Corps, who have recently reverted to their First World War green like the sweater above but with a higher neck.
Guernsey Woollens offers a made-to-measure service for individual size requirements.
Tinker, Tailor Passed Us By
A recent favourite film at Tweed Towers was the adaptation of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. (Old posts: Smiley's Aquascutum Trench Coat and Tinker Tailors - Timothy Everest and Huntsman). Gents, we missed a vital piece of intelligence. A Guernsey Woollens sweater was also used in the film. In case you haven't seen the film, we won't reveal the wearer. All hush-hush.