Unravelled: Belfast Ropework

The Belfast Ropework Co was the largest ropemaker in the world.

The Belfast Ropework Co was established in 1876. The managing director was William Holmes Smiles (1846 – 1904), the son of Self Help author Samuel Smiles. G W Wolff, of the Belfast shipbuilding firm Harland & Wolff, was the chairman.

Initially, 50 people were employed on a four acre site at Connswater, Belfast. The business grew in tandem with the growth of the Belfast shipbuilding industry. 300 people were employed at the works by 1880.

It was the largest rope works in the world by 1895. By 1913 the site covered 34 acres and the firm employed 3,600 workers.

In 1919 over 3,500 workers were employed, as well as a staff of over 150 clerks. The company served over 100,000 customers. The Belfast site covered over 40 acres.

The company remained the largest ropemaker in the world in 1935, however it entered into decline following the end of the Second World War.

The company still operated the largest single rope factory in the world in 1957. The company employed 1,000 people in 1968.

Belfast Ropework merged with other Belfast textiles firms including McCleery L’Amie to form a company with capital of £3.2 million in 1970.

Belfast Ropework changed its name to McCleery L’Amie Group in 1972.

The company stopped using hemp to produce rope, and switched to solely synthetic fibres in 1973.

A slump in demand for ropes and twines, as well as the growth of low-cost imports from overseas saw the closure of the Belfast Ropeworks in 1979.

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