The Man Behind the Miles: Ted Hannaford at No.34

Sittingbourne resident, Ted Hannaford, committed much of his life to the art of French knitting. His extensive final creation is being featured in our Window Gallery throughout August. Sadly, though, Ted is unable to see this exhibition for himself. Mr Hannaford passed away in early 2017, leaving behind a life long legacy. To get the measure of Ted’s life and inspiring achievements, Ideas Test interviewed Joshua Marshall, Ted’s friend and neighbour ahead of the exhibition’s installation. 

It’s already clear that our August exhibition is perhaps like no other we’ve featured here at No.34 this year. We’ve had fantastic photography, striking sound art and terrific textiles but this month, the work is record breaking (no, really!) It’s true that No.34 is an odd building at the best of times, housing art of every kind at one time or another, but nothing quite beats having bulging bin bags of brightly coloured knitting take over the basement floor. French knitting may be a familiar pastime for plenty of people, but this apparently wasn’t always the case. It is thought that Ted himself only took up the craft because his wife, Rita, often had so much spare material from her own crocheting. The craft is relatively straight forward; long wool is created on a spool with four nails, making it one of the only types of knitting to not need needles. Nevertheless, the Guinness World Records were previously unaware of French knitting – or at least were not differentiating it from finger knitting – until Ted got in touch and informed them. “He wrote to the Guinness World Record as there was no record for French knitting, only finger knitting,” Josh told us, “Which is nothing like French knitting.”

Mound of French knitting
Photo credit Kyra Cross

Josh would be the one to know, since he’s quite the expert on both Ted and his French knitting. In 1998, when Josh was six months old, Ted and Rita moved in as his new next door neighbours. From there stemmed a lifelong friendship. “Every New Year’s Eve, Ted and Rita used to come around and see the new year in with me, my mum, dad and brother.” Ted started knitting around the mid 1980s, so by the time he became Josh’s neighbour, the knitting was already a firm feature in the Hannaford’s lives. They developed a routine around it, the way everyone who has a creative pursuit does. Photographers favour the golden hour, while writers are infamous for their love of late nights. For Ted and Rita, their routine was simple but sweet. The two of them would go to work in the town centre, do their shopping and then Ted would spend the rest of the day doing his French knitting whilst Rita would cut his wool up. They favoured some TV to accompany their crafting, Josh told us. Their favourite show? “WWE. They used to purchase the WWE Pay-per views and myself and Kenneth, Ted’s brother-in-law, would go around and watch them with Ted and Rita.” It’s a culture clash that is both heartwarming and humorous, and it sums up just some of the eccentricities Ted was known for. Somehow picturing this fantastic creation that could easily stretch as far as from Hempstead House to the front door of Canterbury Cathedral, being knitted in front of the wrestling makes this exhibition all the more delightful.

Installation of French Knitting
Photo credit Kyra Cross

On the rare days Ted wasn’t knitting, he could often be found taking part in charity fundraising events. The money he raised for Great Ormond Street and for Alzheimer’s was a separate commitment to his French knitting but is a clear portrayal of the type of person Ted had been. Philanthropic, generous, and full of life. As it stands, Ted’s record is still yet to be beaten. He does have a competitor on the horizon, in the form of Leon Milich from Australia. Josh is convinced that Ted’s record will stay for some time, though. “Ted’s record will go on for years as he was a long way in front,” Josh knowingly informed us and here at Ideas Test, we quite hope this is the case. After all, over thirty years of dedication to a craft is an achievement in itself. “When I used to visit Ted, he was always doing French knitting,” Josh said, attesting to just how much of a commitment it became for Ted. “After a couple of years, I think it turned into more of a job than anything.”

Date and measurement in feet of Ted's French knitting
Photo credit Kyra Cross

To finish, we asked what Josh thought Ted would say if he could have seen his work on display right here on Sittingbourne High Street. “If Ted saw the exhibition today he would be shocked as to how much he did and thankful,” Josh affirmed. “I think it is important that members of Sittingbourne see the amount of work that Ted did.”

If you want to see the amazing life’s work of Ted Hannaford, his French knitting is on show at No.34 until August 30. The exhibition is free to see and No.34 is open from 11am-4pm Tuesday-Friday and from 1am-3pm on Saturday.