There is no substitute for WOOL

Wovember — our month-long celebration of WOOL is now drawing to a close. Today, it is very easy to use the internet as a platform for a campaign, but in the 1950s, the Woolmark Company / International Wool Secretariat had a rather different idea to publicise the virtues of wool. They held a competition in which members of the public were invited to send in poems, ending with the line “There is no substitute for wool”. Winners received £5, and their poems appeared as illustrated advertisements on trains and London Underground carriages. These verses quickly achieved a sort of national currency and people who grew up in the 1950s still clearly remember the rhymes of the ‘no substitute’ campaign today. In the majority of winning verses, popular historical figures extoll wool’s many virtues: Leonardo da Vinci fails to invent a sheep; Guinevere knits stockings for the knights of the round table; Nelson insists that his crew are completely wool-clad; a naked Venus is told to wear woolly underwear to ward herself against the chill night air. Other verses — with their references to sputniks, Danny Kaye, ‘squares’ and ‘hipsters’, and a very particular sense of Britishness — speak of their moment in an often intriguing way. In 2005, Richard Proctor compiled the “no substitute” verses into a book which he published in association with the Worshipful Company of Woolmen in 2005. The book once had a website, which no longer seems to exist . . . but I urge you to seek it out. In the meantime, here are some of our favourite ‘no subsititute’ verses.

“What weather,” shivered Master Will,
“Ye ink is frozen in my quill.
I’m sure I’m getting ‘sniff’atchoo’
A dose of 16th century flu.”
Anne Hathaway produced a sweater,
“Ah, Wool,” said Will, “My word that’s better,
By keeping warm, I’ll play it cool
There is no subsitute for wool.”

(Note the scooters and London transport logo)

Yon canny highland crofters keep
A breed of crease-resistant sheep.
They weave wee woollen skirts and slacks,
And sell them to the Sassenachs.
Wool keeps its shape, it’s bound to please —
You’ve nae seen sheep with baggy knees!
At birth bairns learn the highland rule:
There’s still no substitute for wool.

(This next one is intriguing. See Tom of Holland’s earlier post regarding ‘pulling the wool over one’s eyes.’)

When Ministers begin to grouse
At awkward questions in the house
When politicians face distress
At odd disclosures in the press
We look for stuff of fitting size
For pulling o’er our master’s eyes
We then recall the golden rule:
There is no substitute for wool!

“Man, dig that crazy square,” they breathed,
When May grooved in, in woollies sheathed.
“A mouldy fig, no hipster she;
A longhair of pure pedigree.”
But May is gone; she hears them not ,
Because her jive is really hot.
She knows that when the music’s cool
There is no substitute for wool!