Origins

Like most rural communities, Barton people grew flax to provide for their own domestic needs.

The town’s ancient links to the River Humber and the sea beyond helped boost the local demand for rope and sailcloth, as did the large number of windmills that existed in this region. The production of flax and hemp is mentioned in the Barton Town Book of 1676, which clearly places its role at the heart of the parish’s economy. However, rope making in Barton did not (or rather could not) engage with wider markets. This stemmed mainly from the small-scale nature of the process. Inventories left by ‘Ropers’ during the seventeenth century show that few, if any, possessed any sort of machinery to help them increase production. Indeed, illustrations dated 1802 show men spinning rope by hand, making it anywhere they could ‘walk’ the length required. Subsequently the early history of rope making in Barton has left historians and archaeologists with no firm evidence.

We do know, however, that Halls’ first permanent and substantial rope making building was built at Barton some time between 1800 and 1806. This, for many, represents the beginning of industrial rope making in the town. But, the story of the Hall’s Ropery begins much earlier, in the eighteenth century, in the nearby port of Hull. As the eighteenth century progressed, Hull was developing rapidly as a port of great significance; export trade had doubled between 1750 and 1780. The merchants and traders of Hull were increasingly wealthy, and the Hall family almost certainly profited from the development of trade from the port.

Traditionally, the date given for the foundation of Hall’s Ropery is 1767. It is probable that this was the initial move by William Hall into the business of rope making, rather than any concerted effort to build a rope making ‘factory’ at Barton. The Hall family were successful merchants and ship owners, securing great wealth from trading to Baltic and European ports. It is likely that the Hall family’s Baltic trade links complemented their new rope making interests, as the importation of Russian hemp became common for rope making during the eighteenth century.8 Before the nineteenth century, rope making in Barton represented only a small (but increasingly important) part of the Hall family’s interests.