How rope is made at the only traditional working ropewalk in the world

  • Chatham Dockyard houses the only remaining traditional working ropewalk in the world.
  • The ropewalk – that’s the official name for a rope factory – is a quarter of a mile long, so long that the rope makers use bicycles to get from one end of the building to the other.
  • Rope has been made at Chatham Dockyard for 400 years, and it’s still produced in almost exactly the same way today.

This is the last traditional working ropewalk in the world. They use traditional methods, and 150-year-old equipment to make 500,000 pounds of rope each year.

Ropemaking is a simple process of twisting fibres together to create an extremely strong cable, and the principles haven’t changed in years. There are two parts to the process, forming and closing. Forming starts with banks of yarn that are run through a die and twisted and compressed into one strand.

Three of these formed strands are then moved onto the closing machine. This wraps each of the cables together along the ropewalk. The ropewalk is a quarter of a mile long, long enough to make 220 meter lengths of rope. This length is enough to anchor a ship in 40 fathoms of water.

Chatham Dockyard was once at the forefront of ship building, throughout its history it provided over 500 ships for the Royal Navy and each of those ships needed a lot of rope. An 18th century first rate ship of the line would need around 31 miles of rope, 20 miles for its rigging alone.

At its height the dockyard employed over 10,000 workers. The yarn used to be created on the site too and in a room just above the ropewalk raw fibres of hemp and flax were combed and spun.

The rope made here has been used on the Cutty Sark and the HMS Victory and is still supplied to historic ships today.

Produced by Charlie Floyd