Wednesday, 20 December 2017

Rope making and the birth of the submarine cable industry



Rope making and the birth of the submarine cable industry.
by John Yeardley

In the nineteenth century a dramatic change took place in the cordage industry with the invention of wire rope. Some companies took to this revolutionary metallic raw material and a new industry was born. Much of this development was centred in London.

In the beginning. George Wright Binks, a foreman ropemaker at Woolwich Dockyard, about 1830, conceived the idea of forming a rope from twisted iron wire instead of hemp and began practical experiments to that end in the dockyard ropery.

George Binks tried unsuccessfully to interest the Admiralty in his invention but his efforts caught the attention of a Captain Harris R.N. who in 1835 put up the money to establish a small works in Great Grimsby in Lincolnshire. Binks and his two sons continued the development and in the same year produced the first true stranded wire rope. In 1838 the factory was moved from Great Grimsby to new premises in Greenwich Road, (now West Ferry Road,) Millwall.

George Wright Binks
Lewis Dunbar Brodie Gordon, a young Scotsman who had worked with Brunel on the Thames Tunnel until 1837 became interested in the possibilities of rope made from iron wire and discussed it with a boyhood friend and brilliant engineer, Robert Sterling Newall. He wrote to Newall in June 1838 and the latter, working very quickly, replied at the end of July with a drawing of a machine to produce a four strand wire rope.

In 1840 Newell took out a patent for "certain improvements in wire rope and in machinery for making such rope" In the same year Gordon and Newall, in partnership with Charles Liddell (a pupil of George Stephenson), established a factory in Gateshead trading as R.S.Newall & Co

In 1850 a submarine cable of copper wires coated with Gutta Percha was laid between Dover and Calais for the Anglo French Telegraph Company but it lasted only one day through chafing on rocks. Newall then proposed that such a cable could be improved by armouring it with a layer of wires, in effect making the cable the core of a wire rope. The contract to make such a cable was however given to Wilkins and Weatherley, rope makers ofWapping. After a legal battle over patents Newall took over their premises and the cable was successfully laid in September 185l.

Other cables soon followed including the Dover - Ostend cable in 1853 on which Newall cooperated with William Kuper.

Kuper and Company had been one of the first to manufacture wire rope with a factory on the Surrey Canal but had failed to prosper and gone bankrupt in 1849 whereupon a mining engineer called George Elliot came to the rescue by acting as their sole agent and manager. The works were moved to Morden Wharf, East Greenwich and by 1854 Elliot was so successful that he became proprietor by paying the creditors in full with interest. Kuper than retired and was replaced by Richard Glass. The company was then renamed Glass, Elliot and Co and began increasingly to go in for producing submarine cables. In 1856 they enlarged their premises by taking over what had formerly been Enderby's Hemp Rope Works.

Newall rope making machine
Samuel Enderby, born in 1717, went into partnership with an oil merchant, Charles Buxton and in 1752 he married Buxton's daughter. They owned a number of sailing ships and one of them was involved in the famous Boston Tea Party. In 1775 he took over the business and started fitting out ships for whaling. By 1790 he owned 68 whaling vessels and had estates in Lewisham, Bermondsey, Eltham and Lee and lived in Crooms Hill House. Various sons became involved in what was a very large and important business. (One of his grandsons was General Gordon of Khartoum fame). The company vessels obviously used vast quantities of rope and in 1829 they established their own rope factory in Greenwich. The enterprise was fairly short lived for the factory was destroyed by fire in 1845 putting 250 people out of work. Although the machinery was covered by insurance the factory never reopened' and was eventually sold to Glass Elliott and Co.

No comments: