Records of Gourock Ropeworks Co Ltd, rope makers and textile manufacturers, Port Glasgow, Inverclyde, Scotland

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

  • Minutes, articles of association, and title,s 1774-1967;
  • Letterbooks and loose letters, 1736-1934;
  • Financial records, 1818-1971;
  • Sales and stock records, 1897-1969;
  • Personnel records, 1841-1963;
  • Records of the Govan Ropeworks Co Ltd, rope makers, Govan, Glasgow, Scotland, 1889-1967;
  • Records of Archibald Thomson Black & Co Ltd, wire rope manufacturers, Shettleston, Glasgow, Scotland 1909-1965;
  • Records of the Gourock Ropeworks Export Co Ltd, Port Glasgow, Inverclyde, Scotland 1903-1933;
  • Records of the Gourock-Bridport Ltd, rope makers and textile manufacturers, Montreal, Canada 1940-1968;
  • Records of the Greenock Ropework Co, rope makers, Whinhill, Greenock, Inverclyde, Scotland 1909-1939;
  • Records of the Gourock Ropes & Canvas (Africa) Ltd, rope makers and textile manufacturers, Johannesburg, South Africa 1909-1968;
  • Records of the Gourock Ropes and Canvass Co Ltd, rope makers and textile manufacturers, Australia (including Birkmyre Canvas Co (Pty) Ltd) 1931-1967;
  • Records of Birkmyre Brothers (Calcutta) Ltd, jute spinners, Calcutta, India 1910-1935;
  • Records of the Gourock Ropes & Canvas Ltd, rope and textile manufacturers, Wellington, New Zealand 1940-1963;
  • Records of the Gourock Ropes & Canvas Ltd, rope and textile manufacturers, Buenos Aires, Argentina 1939-1963;
  • Records of miscellaneous companies related to the Gourock Ropeworks Co Ltd, rope makers and textile manufacturers, Port Glasgow, Inverclyde, Scotland 1934-1966;
  • Records of New Lanark Mills, 1795-1967;
  • Microfilms, c1940s-1990s;
  • Photographs, c20th century;
  • Maps and plans, 1796-1924;
  • Pamphlets and brochures, 1804-1969;
  • Company files, 1903-1972;
  • Legal papers and titles, 1901-1971;
  • Records of similar companies and trade organisations, 1883-1978;
  • Plant property and machinery, 1861-1968.

This description is part of the main  Gourock Ropeworks collection which has been divided into the following sections:  

Administrative / Biographical History

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)

Conditions Governing Access

Open

Acquisition Information

Gourock Ropeworks Co Ltd : Port Glasgow : c1971

Bridon Plastics and Fibres Ltd : Port Glasgow : 1976 (Additional deposit)

Caswell, Kerr, MacKay & Boyd : Glasgow : 1978 (Additional deposit)

Other Finding Aids

Digital file level list available in searchroom

Manual file level list available at the National Registers of Archives in Edinburgh (NRA(S)1717) and London (NRA10832)

Alternative Form Available

Microfilms of the first letter book, minute books 1907-14 and New Lanark visitors' book 1824-1872 are contained within the collection.

Conditions Governing Use

Applications for permission to quote should be sent to the University Archivist

Reproduction subject to usual conditions: educational use & condition of documents

Appraisal Information

Appraisal and re-listing of this material took place in October and November 1997.

Custodial History

The bulk of this material was received directly from the creator by the Economic History Department, Glasgow University in c1971. Management of the collection transferred to Glasgow University Archives in 1975.

Accruals

None expected

Related Material

For contact details of all repositories with a GB code, see the  Archon repository search page

Material in other repositories: no material associated by provenance

Additional Information

This material is original, apart from a number of microfilms. The location of the originals of these microfilms is partly within the collection and partly unknown.

Collection catalogued by Jane Jamieson, Assistant Archivist (Cataloguing), February 1998, with series descriptions and revisions to lower level descriptions compiled by Emma Anthony, Business Archives Cataloguer, to comply with ISASD(G). Catalogue converted to Encoded Archival Description by Andrew Semple, Administration Assistant, 17th June 2002; Rachael Bell, Graduate Trainee, May 2010; and Emma Anthony, Busines Archives Cataloguer, 24 April 201. Descriptions edited and updated by Jenny Cooknell, Assistant Archivist, Novmber 2000; David Powell, Hub Project Archivist, April 2002; Emma Anthony, Assistant Archivist, 22 February 2012; Gemma Tougher, Assistant Archivist (Cataloguing) June 2012; and Sam Maddra, Assistant Archivist (cataloguing), 3 February 2014.