Coal hole plate made in Southwark

Lost Industries of Southwark Education Resources

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Document 11- Using Worksheet 11

Rope & Sail-Cloth Making


An excerpt from 'Days in the Factories', 1843: Rope and Sail-Cloth Making

The conical piece of wood, known as a top, which has grooves in it to take the rope was used to prevent the strands twisting until they reach a certain point. The man compresses the rope which causes the twist to become hard and firm.
'Laying' or making a Rope (from 'Days at the Factories')

Old maps of the Southwark riverside show 'roperies' or rope manufacturers which were common in many riverside areas both north and south of the Thames and although 'Days in the Factories' describes a rope and sail-cloth factory in Limehouse, we can safely assume that those in our area were very similar. Rope and sail making flourished in all the areas connected with the river and ships. It must have been a very dusty trade to work in and some parts of the factory would have smelled strongly of tar.

'The most novel part…is the apparently interminable 'walk' or avenue in which ropes are customarily made…they are from sic to twelve hundred feet in length…in the 'laying walk'…we may see a little railroad, on which a travelling engine is continually employed in making ropes.

Rope Walk, Rotherhithe 1908

Besides all these buildings, which relate to the rope-manufacture only, there are those connected with the sail-cloth manufacture. First, there is a building detached from all others, and provided with boilers, coppers, presses, and other apparatus, where the flaxen yarns are washed and prepared for the weaver.' The flax was grown mainly in Scotland.

In rope manufacture 'the material for nearly all our cordage comes from Russia…It is sometimes asked, "Why should the fibres be twisted; why not bind them together in a straight form?" Their limited length (three or four feet) is the chief reason why this twisting is necessary.'

'We may mention here that nearly all the spinning and twisting concerned in rope-making are or have been more or less effected by machinery in different factories…'

The writer makes a distinction between 'white-rope' and 'tarred-rope'; the latter were tarred because they were to be used in the open air. One of the upper buildings of the factory 'contains a powerful and curious machine for making flat ropes. These are the ropes useful in mining…and consist of three or four well-made round ropes stitched together side by side.'


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