In celebration of International Women’s Day, we caught up with Leanne, one of our team of Master Ropemakers.
Men and women have both played an important role in the preparation and production of rope at Chatham. When the introduction of new mechanised machines for hatchellers and spinners arrived in the 1800s, a cheaper workforce was required. Female workers were employed for this reason and soon became known as the ‘Women of the Ropery’.
Widows and single daughters of the Royal Dockyard workers were first employed to assist in the preparation of fibres to be spun into yarn. Ordinary working women were later accepted to work at The Ropery and did various jobs that were vital to the efficiency of ropemaking.
Today, we have 5 Master Ropemakers who still make rope in the traditional way. Leanne is part of this team and, most importantly for International Women’s Day, the only female Master Ropemaker in the world!
We posed a few questions to find out more about her role in the Ropery …
When did you begin working in the Ropery?
I first saw the Ropery while I was working at Front of House and immediately fell in love with the place. I was amazed that they still used Victorian machinery to run a fully commercial business and when they started advertising for a Ropemaker with training on the job in 2012, I jumped at the opportunity to be a part of something unique. I worked hard for my position in the team and finished my training in about two and a half years.
What do you do?
I make rope for commercial production ranging from 6mm to 110mm. There are many different roles within making the rope and I work on each of them such as steering, using the trestles, cutting the rope etc. I also make bespoke products such as bathroom decorations that we sell in our Ropery shop.
What’s your favourite piece to make?
I really enjoy doing intricate knotwork and take the lead in making these products. I’ve recently started creating dog collars which take me about 20/25 minutes.
How did you learn to be a Master Ropemaker?
I trained on the job 2 and a half years ago. The first thing I learnt was a bow line hitch and then went on to learning steering making 20mm coir (a very difficult material that’s like Velcro – it sticks to everything!). The intricate knotwork, I taught myself through books. I’ve taught myself so many different types of knots to create lots of smaller items which are available to buy in our shop. We also get customers who have a vague idea of what they’d like and from talking to them, I design and make something for them.
What’s one of the pieces that takes the longest time to make?
The doorstop monkey fist takes around 40 mins with the forming and tightening of them. I use around 10 metres of rope to make one!
What’s a favourite memory you have so far?
I was very lucky to be asked to be an extra in Call the Midwife when they were filming here which was very exciting!
I also really love seeing our ropes being used in film. Our ropes have been used in so many films, but I’ve particularly enjoyed spotting them in films such as Disney’s Dumbo, Aladdin, Mary Poppins, James Bond, Game of Thrones and Star Wars!
Find out more about the fascinating world of our Master Ropemakers and their products here