The Rope Making Industry in Hong Kong, 1957 Trade Bulletin article
Twine, halliards, cables – if what you need can be classified under the general heading of ‘rope’, it is almost certainly made in Hong Kong. One of the Colony’s earliest industries was ship-building from which a natural offshoot was rope-making.
In 1883 Hong Kong’s first rope-making was opened with a capital of HK$150,000.[HF: this was The Hongkong Rope Manufacturing Co., Ltd., see articles linked below] Today this firm has the largest and most modern rope factory in the Colony, a capital of about HK$2 million and world-wide reputation for its products.
As so often happens in Hong Kong, the old survives alongside the new (indeed it is half the Colony’s charm) and it is still not uncommon to see an old-fashioned, individual rope-maker at work in any open space, walking up and down on a well-worn rope-walk and twising [sic] the rope in the centuries-old manner with the aid of wooden frames and twisting hooks. There could hardly be a more vivid contrast with the intensely mechanised processes of rope-making on a modern scale as typified by the factory mentioned above.
The works are spread over an area of about 130,000 square feet, within which are many buildings, each reserved for a separate process. The hemp godown is used to store the raw hemp, which is brought direct from Manila in press-packed bales of approximately 280 lb. Each day, fresh bales are taken into the main factory building, which contains the preparing, spinning and rope departments. The various grades of hemp are then blended by experts to give the correct colour, strength, etc., for the type of rope being made. This selection is very important; to the uninitiated, all hemp looks the same, but in fact it differs widely in colour and quality and many years of experience are needed to select and blend the fibre correctly.
After the first selection, the hemp is passed over a set of heavy preparing machines, each approximately 20 feet long and equipped with fast moving chains carrying steel pins which comb and straighten the hemp, making the fibres parallel and form them into a ribbon or sliver, which looks like a stream of water as it emerges. This silver is automatically laid in a circular pile and is then ‘fed’ over a set of frames which draw the fibre, making the sliver uniform and reducing it. From the frames, the slivers are taken in cans to the automatic spinning machines, spun into yarn and wound on bobbins. The number of twists imparted depends on the size of yarn required. This yarn can be sold in its original form or used as the basis for other cordage products.
A rope is composed of several strands, each strand being formed by a number of parallel yarns twisted together – a process known as ‘forming’. Bobbins of yarn are placed in the racks of the stranding machines, where a predetermined number of yarns, varying with the size of rope to be made, are drawn through tubes and twisted by revolving ‘flyers’ which automatically wind the strand on to spools. For ‘laying’, which is the next process, the spools revolve while another machine lays the strands together. The finished ropes are then wound into coils, lashed, and wrapped in hessian for shipment or storage.
At all stages of manufacture checks are carried out to ensure that the finished products are within specified weights, and the yarn is weighed, checked and tested periodically in the test room on a yarn testing machine. The hydraulic testing machine which tests the finished product has a capacity of 30 tons.
The factory as a whole compares favourably with any of its type anywhere in the world and its motor-driven machines are of the latest patter. The company’s maintenance department, with its own machine ship, smithy, pattern shop and gear store plays an important part in the organization of the factory. By keeping the extensive machinery in trim it ensures smooth running of all processes and thus cuts production losses to a minimum.
There is also a dyeing section where yarns are dyed as required and dried ready for use as marks or for identification purposes.
There are forty or more companies in the Colony at present engaged in the production of cordage, ropes and twines, employing a total labour force of about one thousand; most of these firms are of a ‘domestic’ nature and their production is absorbed almost entirely by Hong Kong’s large and efficient fishing fleet. The Hong Kong firm whose factory is described above, however, supplies cables and ropes to destinations all over the world and many leading steamship lines are numbered among its customers. Ropes can be made to any specification from ¼” to 16″ circumference – a coil of the latter weighs over 2½ tons! The factory’s special standard and commercial quality ropes have tensile strengths equivalent to British Standard Specification Grades 1, 2 and 3 respectively and enjoy wide popularity. Among other products are lifeboat falls, trawl twines, point lines, signal halliards, flag lines, driving ropes and drilling cables.
A man’s life may depend on the quality of a rope. Hong Kong ropes meet the need.(1)
See Ropemaking in the Dictionary of Industrial Archaeology
- Rope Making – HK Memory Project, Commerce and Industry Department, “Rope Making”, Trade Bulletin, Hong Kong: Commerce and Industry Department (April 1957), pp.122-123.
- The Hong Kong Memory Project Hong Kong Memory (HKM) is a multi-media web site that gives free and open access to digitized materials on Hong Kong’s history, culture and heritage. The materials include text documents, photographs, posters, sound recordings, motion pictures and videos.
This article was first posted on 4th November 2020.
Related Indhhk articles:
- Rope Making in Hong Kong – Sai Ying Pun 1970s + Kowloon 1945
- Rope-making and Dyeing/Calendering on Ap Lei Chau Island. 1971 RASHKB article
- The Hongkong Rope Manufacturing Co., Ltd
- The Hong Kong Rope Manufacturing Company – further information
- The Hongkong Rope Manufacturing Co., Ltd – images from c1908
- Yau Ma Tei – origin of place name from rope making?
- The Reevesia Thyrsoidea tree- used to make rope and other products in Hong Kong