Outhwaites of Hawes: Traditional Yorkshire Dales rope workshop and museum closes - bringing to an end centuries of ropemaking
Outhwaites opened in a workshop next to Hawes Station – now the Dales Countryside Museum – in 1905, though other families had produced rope in the town in the Georgian and Victorian eras.
In 1974, the last of the Outhwaites, Tom, was looking to retire and without a family member to pass the company on to, sold it to Peter and Ruth Annison – former college lecturers with no knowledge of ropemaking and who had never run a business before or even lived in the Dales. The BBC even commissioned a documentary film about his search for a successor, after he had been working alone since World War Two.
Yet the couple made the ropery a huge success, opening a museum and visitor centre, training local workers in traditional techniques and diversifying the product range to include dog leads.
Peter died several years ago and although Ruth carried on running it, she has now decided to retire.
Two members of staff have set up their own rope workshops in Askrigg and Richmond and Ian Outram, who runs Ropework UK, has bought some of the stock.
Mr Outram said: “Sad news that Outhwaites Ropemakers of Hawes have closed down. Two of the staff have set up on their own concentrating on different aspects of the business and I have through my business Ropework-uk bought up a lot of the yarn and rope stock ..
“Peter’s wife Ruth has been running the business since Peter passed away but in her 80s she has decided enough is enough. Sadly no-one could be found to buy the whole business and buildings. I've taken on what I can, which is limited, but Caroline and Andrew, ex-employees, have bought some of the machinery.”
In past centuries, ropemaking was an important trade, and workshops would supply farms and forestry plantations with heavy-duty rope. Naval and merchant shipping also required large amounts of rope. Outhwaites’ ropewalk was 82ft in length – still short of the hundreds of feet the ropewalk at the old Royal Navy dockyard in Chatham stretched for.