Letter: How Staithes bonnets should be tied

Staithes - picture by Ross Parry
Staithes - picture by Ross Parry

The photographs given to the Whitby Gazette for the Fish Fillet Feast event show a lady said to be wearing her traditional Staithes fisherwoman outfit and traditional Staithes bonnet.

However, it is as if a forger has painted a passable imitation of a masterpiece but included a glaring discrepancy - imagine a moustache on the Mona Lisa - and one can’t concentrate on anything other than the error.

In the photographs the lady has the bonnet tied with a big bow prominent under her chin.

The women of Staithes did NOT tie their bonnets in that way.

The bonnets were tied at the back of the neck, though the construction of the bonnets allowed them to be adjusted so that they stayed on even if the ties were left to hang loose.

It is a minor point, I know, but over recent years there have been books and articles and inscriptions containing errors about Staithes and its history.

For example, at the bottom of Cowbar Bank is a brass plaque inscribed by the North York Moors National Parks recording that Jane Ward’s kipper house was demolished in 1961, just below a date scrawled in the wall showing this was actually done in September 1947.

Once these things are given the validation of publication they become the facts, even if they are wrong.

So, in the interests of historical accuracy, I felt compelled to write to you on this knotty issue.

To check that my memory was not playing tricks with me I have looked at many old photos of Staithes and catalogues of Staithes Group artists.

I cannot find any images where the women are wearing bonnets tied under the chin.

I have photos taken pre-First World War, one showing my great grandmother Mary Cole (nee Grimes) wearing a black bonnet (a sign of mourning) and one of my grandmother Mary Harrison (nee Cole) and great aunt Margaret Ann Cole (nee Ward) wearing bonnets in the traditional way.

Colin Harrison

Cowbar Bank, Staithes