The East Rope Walk, at Job Gould's West of England Twine Works
Case study: East Street, West Coker, South Somerset (South West)
List entry number: 1057116
Background and history
Israel Rendell bought the site in 1828 and founded a twine works there soon after. In about 1880 it was bought by Job Gould who built the current ropewalk structures. The site has remained in the family since then.
The east ropewalk is an extremely long building of 97 metres. The length of the ropewalk determined the length of the twine that was spun. A single continuous tiled roof covers the entire length. The building is open at ground floor level, with two stories of ropewalk above.
The twine-making operation used water in the finishing process. The building was deliberately sited to slope upwards into the hillside. This allowed water to run down through the ground floor finishing area.
The open sides of the ground floor allowed the twine to dry. It was then wound into balls in a separate process within the balling house. This is attached to the north gable end of the ropewalk. Initially the machinery was powered by a steam engine, installed circa 1900. More recently, power was supplied by two diesel engines within a separate engine house in the west range.
In medieval times ropewalks were generally out in the open air. In the 19th century lightweight roofs were added to protect the machinery and twine-walks. This building is a rare survival of this type of structure and of Somerset's industrial past.
Is it at risk?
The ropewalk is at high risk. It has been in poor condition for some time. It was added to the Heritage At Risk Register this year because the building was upgraded from grade II to grade II*.
Ageing and weakness in some joints now makes the east ropewalk a very fragile structure. Over time the banks around it have collapsed and pushed against the posts holding up the trusses. Water has run through the base of the building hollowing out channels in the floor and round the posts. A heavy fall of snow could result in complete collapse.
What's the current situation?
Gould's West of England Twine Works is in the centre of West Coker. Local people still remember working in the building. It is a reminder of how important the rope and twine trade was in South Somerset and Dorset.
The structure is essentially a roof held up on timber struts with the first floor enclosed by lightweight planks and glazing. It is extremely fragile and partially collapsing.
Historic England and South Somerset District Council are working with one of the owners to provide a temporary solution. This will involve propping and tying to support the structure for the next few years. This should allow time for permanent repair and reuse solutions to be developed.