Walkers passing along on the road through Muker at the weekend might have been puzzled to see rows of women, dressed in their Sunday best, sitting in the sunshine outside the Swaledale Woollens shop, which sported a banner celebrating its golden jubilee.

In fact these were the Swaledale knitters, and hikers were the first people to buy their handiwork, 50 years ago. Grisella Morris, who loved to knit, put her output of cardigans and jumpers out on the wall and hikers used to buy them. This led to the opening of a shop and the recruiting of hand knitters to satisfy the growing demand for garments made by Swaledale people from the wool of Swaledale sheep.

Darlington and Stockton Times: Knitters outside Swaledale Woollens in Muker for the celebration Picture: RICHARD WALLS

Gillian and Ken Whitehead, the present owners of the business, organised an anniversary party to which all the knitters were invited. Three 90-year-olds were present, as was 84-year-old Pam Bell, the longest serving knitter, having produced all kinds of styles and specialising in Aran, for more than 40 years.

Darlington and Stockton Times: Pam Bell, longest serving knitter Picture: RICHARD WALLS

The business operates a simple but effective system. Every month a delivery of wool, pattern and order is taken to a knitter, and the last month’s sweater, cardigan, scarf, hat or socks, is collected. It can be a special order, for example with longer sleeves or shorter body.

One knitter who specialises in these one-off orders is Doreen Burne, a knitter for 19 years. She was thrilled to receive with her monthly order a postcard sent to the shop by a customer from Jersey (appropriately!) saying how delighted she was with her cardigan. "That made me feel really appreciated," said Doreen, who was enjoying a glass of bubbly and a party tea in the public hall with all the knitters and supporters.

Darlington and Stockton Times: Owners past and present cutting a ribbon across the shop doorway Picture: RICHARD WALLS

The Whiteheads, after their many years of running the business, are planning to sell, and hoping that someone will take over who will continue to keep the special local tradition that has made Swaledale Woollens so successful not only in England but worldwide through their website.

There are many younger knitters too, and they hope that their services will be needed until they too are in their 90s.