The Belfast Ropework Co was the largest ropemaker in the world.
The Belfast Ropework Co was established in 1876. 50 people were initially employed on a four acre site at Connswater, Belfast.
G W Wolff (1834 – 1913), of the Belfast shipbuilding firm Harland & Wolff, was the chairman. The managing director was William Holmes Smiles (1846 – 1904), the son of Self Help author Samuel Smiles (1812 – 1904). It was the organisational ability and energy of Smiles that enabled the venture to prosper.
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.
W H Smiles died in 1904, probably from overwork, with a relatively modest estate valued at £6,303. By this time 3,000 people were employed at the ropeworks, which spanned over 40 acres.
Smiles was succeeded as managing director by John M’Candless (1861 – 1913), who had worked his way up from a modest position in the company.
The site covered 34 acres and the firm employed 3,600 workers by 1913.
Over 3,500 workers were employed by 1919, as well as a staff of over 150 clerks. The company served over 100,000 customers.
The Belfast Ropework Company had a nominal capital of £1 million by 1930.
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 ended hemp rope production in favour of synthetic fibres from 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.