1950 – 1989 Specialist ropes
Roland Dagwell, who had joined the company in 1938 as Export Manager, returned from wartime service and continued to develop the company’s overseas business. Dagwell must have realised the importance of foreign markets in a time when ‘export or die’ was the order of the day. When he became Managing Director in 1953, after the death of Arthur Hendy, he continued the development of foreign trade, especially creating links with the burgeoning heavy-industries in South America and the Middle East. This coincided with the opening of new offices in Hull to replace those lost during the Second World War. Throughout the 1950s the business was stable, and foreign markets grew in importance; rope was in demand for all sorts of uses including oil drilling, mining, haulage and shipping. The company was compelled to invest in modern machinery and re-organised its storage systems to improve efficiency, although by far the most notable development was the adoption of synthetic rope making.
Synthetic fibres were to revolutionise rope making, being stronger, lighter, waterproof and cheaper to produce than natural ropes. Machinery to exploit synthetic rope production was built on the site of some older, by then redundant, processes at Barton, such as the production of ‘tow’ rope (poor quality rope re-manufactured from scraps). The development of synthetic fibres, beginning with polyester, moved with great pace and by 1960 synthetic fibres of modern standards were available. Hall’s found the production of synthetic rope profitable; evidence shows that much of the synthetic rope was used in ‘everyday’ applications where it replaced sisal and manila rope. The company remained in the business of the production of natural fibre ropes, and it appears they aligned this aspect of the business to the fulfilling of specialist orders where the proven qualities of manila or sisal rope were sought over the lower price of synthetic ropes. Indeed, as many other rope manufacturers contracted and closed, Hall’s Barton Ropery remained one of the few rope manufacturers in the country that could produce ropes of unusual characteristics; in length, lay or quality. Certainly, large companies such as British Ropes tended to abandon such specialist rope in favour of the production of synthetic alternatives. Alas, it could be argued that Hall’s could not compete with such large industrial combines and the decision to remain a ‘specialist’ rope maker was probably one made with little choice, eager to remain independent in a period when many smaller rope works were struggling. Those with fond memories of the company often recall the ‘special’ ropes the company made, and it has often been said that the ropes used on the first successful ascent of Everest were produced in Barton. Unfortunately, no documentary evidence remains of this achievement. There were many orders from such unusual customers as the United States Navy who provided very detailed specifications and expectations of quality.
The company continued to be successful throughout the 1960s, Roland Dagwell becoming Chairman in 1962.43 The company’s success fitted well with the general success of all industry in the Humber region, notably in the emergent chemical, paint and oil industries. Rope making as an industry remained an important part of manufacturing in the area, accounting for 4.5% of the region’s production in 1967, the bulk of which must have derived from Hall’s Barton Ropery. In the home markets the company relied heavily on orders from repeat customers, and state owned industries such as the British Coal Board, British Steel Corporation, British Railways, and numerous other utility and shipping boards. Modernisation of the works and its machinery carried on, and gained pace when Tom Nicolson became Work’s Manager. Money was always a problem though, and during this period it was a constant struggle to keep the old ropewalk building weather proof. Eventually, and in line with national requirements regarding working conditions, the southern part of the walk, dating from the first decade of the nineteenth century, was rebuilt in metal and asbestos.
During the 1970s the area suffered greatly from economic recession. The attendant loss of many fisheries effectively brought to an end Hall’s centuries-long association with the British maritime industry. New avenues were explored and Hall’s Barton Ropery made a good name for itself in Icelandic and Canadian fishing markets. Business was hard and Hall’s found it increasingly difficult to maintain stock levels and therefore quick deliveries. Despite their struggle to remain independent, Hall’s could not prevent Bridport-Gundry purchasing the company in 1986. Before Bridport-Gundry’s long-term plans for Hall’s Barton Ropery were revealed, the company was sold once again, to Bridon Plc, (formerly called British Ropes). The decision to close the Barton site was made immediately and, in December 1989, the works produced its last rope. The buildings were stripped and machinery either broken up or sold to other manufacturers. Centuries of rope making in Barton had come to an end.