Rope is essential for shipping, farming and industry. Over the centuries there have been a number of ropewalks in Ipswich. A ropewalk is a long narrow place where the ropemaker spins his yarns and makes his ropes by walking back and forth twisting yarns into strands and then strands into rope.
Everyone in Ipswich is aware of there being a rope walk where the road bearing that name is today. In actual fact today’s Rope Walk follows the path of what was originally ’Ropers Lane’. The walk was actually parallel, but to the river side of Ropers Lane, as is clearly seen in Ogilby’s Town Map of 1674. It was the biggest and oldest ropewalk in Ipswich and was operating from 1625 to 1798, with a small part still being used until 1818.
Ogilby’s map also shows a further two ropeyards (another name for a ropewalk), one at the bottom of Bishop’s Hill and another near where the brewery is now. Quite how long they were operating I have been unable to find out. After the Ropers Lane walk closed down and was built on, there was still need for rope in the town. One 1844 directory lists five ropemakers, but where did they make their rope? The Tithe Map of St Mary Stoke from 1839 shows that Nathaniel Rand had a ropewalk at right angles to Wherstead Road, although his place of business in the directories is given as Quay Street where there was probably not the land available to be used in such a crowded area of town.
Where the other ropemakers made or brought their rope in from has yet to be discovered. Operating from at least 1867 to 1890 there was a ropewalk in Felixstowe Road, just past the end of Alan Road on the right hand side going out of town. From the Ordnance Survey map of 1882 it can be seen that the walk was about 500 ft long by 15 ft wide. It was first worked by Walter Cuckow and later taken over by one of his men, George Finney.
About the same time from the Ordnance Survey map of 1884, there was another ropewalk at the bottom of Crane Hill. Who worked it I cannot find out as yet. However, apart from the Cuckow there were just two other rope and twine makers who were listed in Stevens Ipswich Directory of 1885 – G W Holmes of Curriers Lane and Charles Taylor of Dogs Head Street, and probably one of them was using this walk. Perhaps their ropemaker was Wm Rose, who was living at the time in Handford Cut and gave his occupation as ‘ropemaker’.
Whilst to have a listing a rope and twine makers did not automatically mean that they made their own rope (they may have bought some or all of their stock in) by the numbers listed it is quite likely that there may be more ropewalks still to be found in and around Ipswich. Whilst the 20th century saw more and more ropes being bought into Ipswich from the large industrial roperies in London and the north of England, there was a small walk at Hadleigh up until just before the Second World War, and the last remaining ropemaker in Suffolk, the Haverhill Rope, Twine and Sack Company, ceased trading in the early 1980s.