The Port Glasgow Rope & Duct Cowas founded in 1736 in Port Glasgow, Inverclyde, Scotland. In 1797 it merged with the Gourock Ropework Co (founded 1777) to form the Gourock Ropework Co The company enjoyed a world-wide reputation in the manufacture of ropes, canvas and sailcloth. By the late nineteenth century the company was under the control of Henry Birkmyre (1832-1900) and his brother, John (1834-1910), who had become partners in the firm in 1853. Their father, William Birkmyre, had also been a manager of the company until he retired in 1860.
Henry Birkmyre's first contribution to the company was the consolidation and expansion of the productive capacity at Port Glasgow. In 1856, the spinning of yarns for sailcloth was transferred from Greenock, Inverclyde, to Port Glasgow, where the cloth was already produced. Additional steam power was introduced at Port Glasgow while the Greenock mill was converted to jute spinning before being sold in 1860 to the Greenock Sacking Co leaving only a ropework and warehouse at Greenock. Seven years later the Greenock ropeworks was disposed of and a former sugar refinery purchased at Port Glasgow, in order to allow for increased capacity in the production of ropes, cordage and cloth. The firms prosperity was heavily influenced by the growth of the Clyde shipbuilding industry, with nearby yards at Greenock, Port Glasgow, Dumbarton. Demand for canvas was also stimulated by military activity around the world.
One of the major Birkmyre innovations was the development of patent proofing. Birkmyre patent waterproof cloth was used for tents, tarpaulins and a variety of covers, was the first to use "dry" chemical proofing and it was marketed from 1889 onwards. The late 1880s also saw the firm establishing offices and warehouses throughout Britain and South America. Agents were also appointed in Europe and markets were established in Australia. William Birkmyre, Henry's brother, who had managed the sacking mill at Greenock, was responsible for the establishing a large jute mill in Calcutta, India, in partnership with Henry and John. The firm of Birkmyre Brothers eventually operated the Hastings Mill in Calcutta and two others in Serampore and Bombay.
In 1894, Henry's three sons, William, James and John, were appointed partners to assist their father and uncle, Henry retiring in 1895. In order to secure increased orders for the firm's staples of rope, cordage, canvas and sail cloth, Henry Birkmyre had invested widely in shipping companies in Glasgow, Scotland, and on the river Tyne in the north-east of England, at the same time promoting the interest of his son-in-law, the shipbuilder William Todd Lithgow. The manufacture of fishing nets also followed as Birkmyre had also invested in a number of steam fishing fleets.
The firm was incorporated as the Gourock Ropeworks Co Ltd in 1903 through the amalgamation of the Gourock Ropeworks Co and New Lanark Mills. New Lanark Mills, New Lanark, South Lanarkshire, Scotland, was founded by David Dale (1739-1806) and Richard Arkwright (1732-1792) in 1784 as a cotton spinning company. It was purchased by the Lanark Twist Co in 1799 with Robert Owen (1771-1858), Dale's son-in-law, as part-proprietor and sole manager. Henry Birkmyre formed a partnership with his brother-in-law Robert Galbraith Somerville in 1881 to purchase New Lanark Mills. Under Birkmyre's supervision, the manufacture of fishing nets from cotton spun at the mills was introduced and skilled operatives and patent net-looms were imported to New Lanark from Refrewshire and elsewhere in Scotland. The manufacture of nets from cotton was a comparatively recent innovation, but Birkmyre clearly sought to exploit markets created through his shipping interests. The partnership was dissolved in 1888 when Birkmyre took over sole proprietorship of the works. A new partnership was formed in 1894 between Henry and his sons William, James and John. With the formation of the Gourock Ropework Co Ltd in 1903, New Lanark Mills became the centre of the company's cloth manufacture.
By 1954 the company had both a large UK and overseas operation. In the UK, as well as the Gourock Ropeworks Co Ltd, there were 4 operating subsidiary companies, namely the Greenock Ropeworks Ltd, Greenock; A Thomson Black & Co Ltd, Shettleston, Glasgow; J Lomax & Sons (Bolton) Ltd, Bolton, England; and the Gourock Ropeworks Co Ltd with sites at Port Glasgow, New Lanark, Govan and Aberdeen. There were also 15 branch offices of the company within the UK. Overseas, the company had subsidiaries operating in South Africa, Canada, Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), Australia, Argentina and New Zealand, along with offices and agents in most of the former British colonies. The Gourock Ropeworks Co Ltd became part of Bridon Ropes Ltd in 1970 when it was taken over by Bridon Fibres & Plastics Ltd. The works at Port Glasgow closed in 1976. The Gourock Ropeworks Co Ltd still continues to exist but no longer trades.
Source: eds. Anthony Slaven and Sydney Checkland, Dictionary of Scottish Business Biography 1860-1960, (Aberdeen, 1986)