Rope-making in Ipswich
As Ipswich grew into a thriving centre for shipping and
agriculture, rope was an increasingly essential commodity. Ropewalks
sprang up around the docks to meet demand. Ropewalk’s are long lanes,
sheds or open areas where ropemakers make rope by walking back and
forth. Yarns are spun together before being twisted into strands, which
are then combined into thicker ropes.
Ogilby's map of Ipswich of 1674 (detail below) labels both the Rope
Walk/Ropers Lane 'Ropeyard' and that between 'the way to Brightwell'
(Back Hamlet) and the way to Nacton and Trimly and ye Fort' (Fore
Hamlet) – both underlined in red on the map. Note the legend 'Claypitt
& tyle' directly south of the Church of St
Helen and at the western
end of Rope Walk, signifying a long-standing pottery here. Note also the oval shaded
area south of this labelled (very small): 'Clay pit'.
1. Rope Walk (Ropers Lane)
The biggest and oldest ropewalk in Ipswich was south of today’s
Walk (shown here as 'Rope Lane'). Ropers Lane operated from 1625 until
1818 and at its peak it was
about 300 yards long. In 1625 Thomas Gallant was given the use of
'ropers lane' for ropemaking at an annual rent of ten shillings.
Twenty-five years later Frauncis Searle was granted permission to use
'Roaperes Lane' for ropemaking 'as latelie Gallant had the same And
under the same yearlie Rent that Gallant pd for the same during the
Note that the stretch of lane which today we know as Eagle Street is
all 'Rope Lane' in 1778. Also that today's Orwell Place is labelled
'Stepples Street', to the left of the 1778 map, which was named after
the stepping stones which were installed here to assist pedestrians to
avoid getting their feet wet from the waters of The Wash – Upper and
Lower Orwell Street.
2. Back Hamlet
John Ogilby’s Ipswich map of 1674 shows a ropewalk in the angle of
Back Hamlet and Fore Hamlet (see the 1674 map detail above). The
cottages bearing the '1620' dat on a bresummer beam have been called
'Ropemakers' Cottages' which could be due to their proximity to this
3. Cliff Quay
A ropewalk appears on John Ogilby’s 1674 map alongside thr River Orwell
and south of the shipyards in St Clement's parish – somewhere close to
the Cobbold Brewery at Cliff Quay was later built.
[UPDATE 9..2.2017: See the 1805
map of pre-Wet Dock Ipswich and upper part of the River
Orwell, which shows 'Rope Ground' on the east bank. Des Pawson of the
Sailors Ropework & Knotting Museum (see Links):
'I see that the rope walk at the bottom of Back Hamlet is not shown on
Pennington  but my copy and possibly the whole of [it] does not
go further out towards the Brewery, so it can be said that the Back
Hamlet Ropewalk was gone by 1778 but that the area nearer to the
Brewery continued to be used for rope making certainly up to 1804.']
4. Wherstead Road
Though apparently traded from Key Street in 1839, Nathaniel Rands owned
a ropewalk on Wherstead Road.
5. Bolton Lane (Little Bolton)
In 1847 a watch was reported stolen from rope-maker Emanuel Rand’s
ropewalk in Little Bolton, (possibly near what is now Bolton Lane,
although 'Little Bolton' was a group of dwellings on today's Henley
Road around the area of the Upper Arboretum/Ipswich School). So we know
there was a ropewalk here for a period of time.
6. Crane Hill, London Road
The Crane Hill ropewalk appears on the 1884 Ordnance Survey map.
7. Felixstowe Road
There was a ropewalk on Felixstowe Road opposite the end of Newton Road
(as shown on Edward White's map of Ipswich 1867,
above) from 1867 until 1890,
by Walter Cuckow and later by George Finney. In 1882 it measured 500
feet by 15 feet. (Note that today's Alan Road is labelled 'Allan Road'
on this map.) See also our Rosehill case study for the source
of the house name shown at the upper left: 'Rose Hill'. The house still
stands at the end of Sandhurst Avenue.
We are grateful to Des and Liz Pawson's Museum of Knots & Sailors
Ropework (see Links) for their 2016 display
in St Mary-At-Quay Church (Quay Place) on which this page is based.
We can do no better than reproduce John Norman's article about
rope-making in Ipswich in one of his Ipswich
Icons columns in the Ipswich
Star, 21 February 2016.
"It shouldn’t take a genius to work out, in a maritime town like
Ipswich, that the previous industry of the thoroughfare known as Rope Walk was rope making, writes
John Norman of the Ipswich Society. In fact in Ipswich there were at
least six ropewalks (manufacturing works) and possibly two Rope Lanes
The present day Rope Walk was previously known as Ropere’s Lane with
the rope works (or ropewalk) immediately south of the street (under
what is today St Edmund’s House). The current road got its name from
the sheds and cottages that were on the northern side of the walk, a
back door onto the works, a front door onto what became the present day
Rope Walk. The second Rope Lane was off St Peter’s Street but is now
lost in history.
Rope is made by walking backwards, first spinning fibre to make a yarn
then a number of these yarns are twisted together to make a strand then
three or four strands are twisted together to make a rope. The sailing
vessels of the day required hundreds of yards of rope in a range of
different strengths and thicknesses.
The key to a successful rope making business is the length of rope that
the facility can produce, the longer the ropewalk the longer the rope
that could be produced. This particular facility could run a rope from
near Eagle Street to Milner Street (the corner of the grounds of Hill
House, today’s Alexandra Park), close to 1,000 feet.
The other Ipswich ropewalks were situated closer to the quay side, one
between Back Hamlet and Fore Hamlet (under what is today Holy Trinity
Church), one immediately south of and parallel with Fore Hamlet and
another just south of the shipyards on Neptune Quay. There were,
according to Ogilby’s map of 1674, three shipyards adjacent to the bend
in the river, immediately south of what became Coprolite Street.
Another ropewalk was on the level ground at the top of Bishops Hill,
close to Alan Road.
The ropewalk close to the river had disappeared from Pennington’s map
of 1778 but the Rope Walk facility was still in production and remained
so until 1818. The end of the 18th Century saw development of rope
production on an industrial scale and with it the demise of small scale
The ropewalks were not alone in their decline, the wool trade was no
longer king, the river was silting up and Ipswich was in depression.
The Dock Commissioners sought to change the town’s fortunes, a steam
dredger was purchased, the river was straightened and Ipswich’s
industrial revolution began.
Ransome had moved into Ipswich in 1789 and established an engineering
industry. Sea-going vessels, increasingly steel rather than timber,
were driven by steam not the wind and the local market for hemp ropes
collapsed. The very last of the Ipswich ropewalks, Alan Road ceased
production at the end of the 19th Century.
One of the requirements of the new engineering industries that were
developing on the quaysides was accommodation for the agricultural
labour that had come into town. The swathe of east Ipswich between St
Helen’s and St Clement’s (known as the Potteries because bricks and
roof tiles had been made on the site) became an area of high density
(low rise) housing. The property was cheaply and hastily built, a
disadvantage as overcrowding and lack of facilities meant they soon
The area was partially cleared in the 1930s, with the remaining
properties swept away immediately after the Second World War. The
cleared land was used to build the new Civic College, opened in 1961
and becoming Suffolk College in 1974. St Edmund’s House was built in
1979 for the county council on what had been the college car park; this
building is currently undergoing conversion into apartments. The tower
block of Suffolk College was demolished in 2010 and a new building
constructed closer to Rope Walk (Suffolk New College). The remaining
buildings on the south side of the site (adjacent to New Street and
Long Street); including the College Library, fell into the ownership of
Did you know that there is a Museum of Knots and Sailors’ Ropework in
Ipswich***? As well as the obvious artefacts there are rope makers’
tools and interesting examples of the rope makers’ art."
See also our page on Brick-making
Other major industries in Ipswich history include:-
Perhaps they all deserve a page on this website.
The Potteries and Ipswich Ware;
for brick and tile-making in this area of the town and elsewhere;
County Hall for information and
maps relating to the County and Borough Gaols;
name plaque examples: Alston Road;
Cauldwell Hall Road; Cavendish Street; Marlborough Road; Rosehill area;
Ipswich & Suffolk Freehold Land
Society (F.L.S.); California
Street index; Origins of street names
in Ipswich; Streets named after slavery
Dated buildings list; Dated buildings examples;
Named (& sometimes dated) buildings
Street nameplate examples
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