Yarndling

A Brief History


"For every man who yarndles, Minister or Pauper alike, another will gladly take his place when he shall tire, which no doubt he shall; for yarndling, if performed properly, is a skilful business, requiring much presence of mind and agility of hand." ~ Samuel Pepys, 1665

"I have never met a Cornish fisherman who does not say, with some pride, that yarndling has made him what he is today." ~ D H Lawrence, 1928

"I yarndled whenever I could in the War Office. I would go so far as to say it was the one thing that kept my head above water in those troubled days." ~ Winston Churchill, 1950 

"The best news is, that we have safely found our king and company. The next, our ship—which, but three hours since, we gave out split—is as tightly yarndled and bravely rigged as when we first put out to sea." ~ 'The Tempest', William Shakespeare, 1611

Introduction

Everyone, of course, knows about yarndling, be it through a grandparent, an uncle, or even an old family friend. Its history is long, convoluted and, above all, symptomatic of what makes us British. Although it can trace its roots back to medieval Albania, the most common forms of yarndling nowadays are those found in Dorset, Cumbria, Cornwall and Suffolk. "Yarndling" is thought to come from the Old Norse word "yenadal", itself a corruption of "yern la dadeler", a phrase in everyday use amongst the agricultural labourers of Cumbria in the early part of the First Century AD. Hence this oft-quoted line from the 18th century anonymous tract Cumbrian Elegies, or a Hymnal of Joy to Dales and Crags in Seventeen Verses : "I yarndled o'er 'ill an' downt dale / wi' nowt but a chorn in one hand / and a pie in t'other".

Nowadays, yarndling attracts a fair amount of attention, especially in the summer months, and it is not unusual for tourists to travel to those areas where yarndling is still performed. A seaside hobby of many, it can be learnt with a minimum of fuss, although the yarndling expert will insist that a proper grasp of the subject cannot be achieved unless the yarndlee is willing to devote much of his free time to honing his art.

A proper appreciation of yarndling depends on the correct basic instruments:

Without any, or all, of these things, one is not considered a proper yarndler. As the poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow once said, "Were I to suggest a yarndler yarndle without the accoutrements of his Art, it would be akin to suggesting a fiddler fiddle without his instrument. Such a thing would be an affront to human nature, on that I think we can all agree." Wise words indeed, and it would be a foolish practitioner to ignore such well-meant advice.

Celebrity Yarndlers

Famous yarndlers include Albert Speer, Max Bygraves, Bing Crosby and the Glaswegian poet Edwin Morgan who extolled the virtues of his pastime in his 1967 tone poem:

Yarndling, Our Yarndling
y a r n d l i n g i s a j o y i c a n n o t s h a r e
   a r                 s                                        e
y              i n g                 c          o t
        n     i n                                                e
           d         i s              c              s
                             j o y   c                          e
             l                  o                              r  e

Tony Blair once trained as a yarndler in Yoevil before being apprenticed to a City law firm in the early 1980s, and has said that if he had not been made Prime Minister in 1996 he would have opened a yarndling academy in his birthplace of Edinburgh. The current leader of the opposition, Ed Miliband, issued a statement in 2001 declaring his love for the craft: "My strong conviction of social justice for all, an end to class division and the reduction of the national deficit by 12% by the end of 2015 all came about through the many happy hours I spent yarndling with my father when I was a child. My parents were both Jews. They fled across Europe and in Britain they found the light of liberty. They arrived with nothing except their yarndling clips. This country gave them everything else.'

Despite an embarrassing gaffe at PMQs when Prime Minister David Cameron failed to identity the current President of the Westminster branch of the Yarndling Society (Tom Hiddle-Black), he has since somewhat made up for his lack of knowledge. Opening the new Museum of Costermongy in Hull in 2012, he said, when interviewed for The Hull Advertiser, "Look, I think we live in an amazing country. A country where gays and lesbians can get married, where people of all faiths can worship freely, and yarndlers of every race, creed and colour can practise their hobby in peace and understanding." UKIP leader Nigel Farage has also gone on record as professing his love for this very British of pastimes: "My wife Kirsten had never heard of yarndling until I bought her a pair of antique yarndling bands and a hat that had once been worn by a local carpenter in my home town of Downe. Since then she has never looked back! When I am not on the campaign trail with my People's Army, we spend many a happy hour supping beer and honing our yarndling skills together."

The sporting arena has its fair share of yarndlers too. Phillips Idowu, Nico Rosberg, Bjorn Borg, Greg Rutherford, Daniel Ricciardo and Geoff Capes have made public their love of yarndling on many occasions. During the 2012 London Olympics, Team GB would often remind the public of its commitment to the "spirit of yarndling", principally in its emphasis on fair play, equality for all, and competitive threading. 

Organisations

United Kingdom
The Yarndling Society
3 Ruislip Lane
Dorking
Surrey
RH4 1QB

Wales
Yarndling ar gyfer Pobl Ifanc (Yardndling For Young People)
Heol Y Doll
Machynlleth
Wales
SY20 8BL

Albania
Shendeti, Yarndling dhe Efikasiteti (Health, Yarndling and Efficiency)
Rruga George W. Bush
Tirana 1010
Albania

Gallery


A yarndling trip to Swanage organized by the Purbeck Rotarian Club in May 1967

            
A Cornish yarndler sporting his beloved yarndling hat, circa 1855


The three famous Golightly Brothers, Ted, Dick and Tam, halfway through yarndling a sturdy piece of hemp, in Devizes in 1874


Cumbrian cave painting, allegedly showing yarndling (top left-hand corner), 2200BC

Select Bibliography

Grove, Bill: Have Fun Yarndling (Hodder, 1966)
Thomas, Graeme: My Adventures in Yarndling (Piatkus, 1980)
Kramer, Brian: Yarndling Can Be a Gay Affair (William Collins, 1975)
Lloyd-Webber, Douglas: Great Politicians and Their Yarndling Secrets (Piatkus, 1987)
Morefield, Derek: Ha'but a chorn? Yarndling Stories from the Olden Days (Souvenir, 1966)
Miller, Dick: Yarndling! (OUP, 2000)
Ritter, Gerald: How Yarndling Could Create World Peace (CraftsFayre Press, 1964)
Salmon, Grayson: Around Dorset with a Yarndling Stick (McAffrey, 1994)
Williams, Deidre: How I Made Yarndling My Life (Pan, 1991)


This site last updated 23 May 2014