The History of Leith

November 3, 2010

Rope, Twine, and Sail Making as it was in 1922

The making of ropes, twines, and sailcloths forms one of Leith’s largest and most specialized industries. The well-known Edinburgh Roperie and Sailcloth Company was founded in Leith in 1750 by a number of
Edinburgh and Leith merchants who combined to advance the interests of the industry. The company was encouraged in its enterprise by obtaining at reasonable rates grants of land at the north-east corner of the Links. From a small beginning the trade has now reached
immense proportions, the enormous development of the company’s business having given to Leith a celebrity in the manufacture of ship rigging unsurpassed in any country in the world. During the hundred and seventy years that have elapsed since the establishment of the
firm, the scene of their earliest operations has from time to time been extended, till now the works in Bath Street cover an area of twenty-five acres.
In 1805 the company established the Malleny M i l l eleven miles from Edinburgh, where abundant supplies. of water for bleaching purposes existed, and where the flax and yarns were prepared for the manufacturlng operations of the Leith works. These mills were used for this purpose for many years, until the increased supply of water brought in by the Edinburgh and District Water Trust enabled the company to concentrate their whole works in Leith. About the same time the works at Glasgow (where fishing lines., etc., were principally made) were also transferred to Leith, so that the whole business is now housed in the Port, local control and economical management being thus secured. It may be mentioned that an uncle of William Ewert, Gladstone was formerly a managing partner in the business, while Sir John Gladstone, the father of the great statesman, gained his earliest commercial experence in the counting-house of the Edinburgh Roperie and Sailcloth Company, of which he was afterward one of the leading partners.
At the present day the business is composed of two great divisions—cordage and sailcloth making. In the cordage departments are manufactured: (1) Rope of all descriptions in Manila, New Zealand, and Russian hemp, and in jute fibres. Yacht Manila ropes, steamer and railway ropes, and tarred trawl ropes for trawling are manufactured, but a very large part of the company’s cordage business consists in the manufacture of large Manila ropes—up to twenty-four inches in circumference and in length up to two hundred fathoms—used as towing ropes for large ships. (2) Fishing-lines for deep-sea, coast, and river fishing. These are distributed over the entire fishing world. (3) Shop twine. (4) Binder twine, used by self-binding reaping machines.
Large consignments of the twine are sent from Leith Docks to the Canadian harvest fields. (5) Trawl twine, used in the manufacture of trawl nets. This twine is made of the finest Manila fibre, as none but the best of materials will withstand the strain of trawl-net fishing.
In the sailcloth departments are made as many as ten different brands of sailcloth, the Leith sailcloth having attained an enviable reputation among shipowners and being known the world over. With the place
of the sailing ship, however, taken by the steamer the output of sailcloth for ships’ sails has fallen off a good deal, and the company has had to look in other directions for the disposal of its manufactures, with the result that in addition to sailcloth it now manufactures large
quantities of canvas, etc.

source-The Story of Leith

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