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Frost Bros, Rope Makers & Yarn Spinners

January 30, 2015
by the gentle author

Founded by John James Frost in 1790, Frost Brothers Ltd of 340/342 Commercial Rd was managed by his grandson – also John James Frost – in 1905, when these photographs were taken. In 1926, the company was amalgamated to become part of British Ropes and now only this modest publication on the shelf in the Bishopsgate Institute bears testimony to the long-lost industry of rope making and yarn spinning in the East End, from which Cable St takes its name.

First Prize London Cart Parade – Manila Hemp as we receive it from the Philippines

Hand Dressing

The Old-Fashioned Method of Hand Spinning

The First Process in Spinning Manila – The women are shown feeding Hemp up to the spreading machines, taken from the bales as they come from the Philippines. These three machines are capable of manipulating one hundred and twenty bales a day.

Manila-Finishing Drawing Machines

Russian & Italian Hemp Preparing Room

Manila Spinning

Binder Twine & Trawl Twine Spinning – This floor contains one hundred and fifty six spindles

Russian & Italian Hemp Spinning

Carding Room

Tow Drawing Room

Tow Spinning & Spun Yarn Twisting Room

Tarred Yarn Store – This contains one hundred and fifty tons of Yarn

Tarred Yarn Winding Room

Upper End of Main Rope Ground – There are six ground four hundred yards long, capable of making eighteen tons of rope per ten and a half hour day

Rope-Making Machines – This pair of large machines are capable of making rope up to forty-eight centimetres in circumference

House Machines – This view shows part of the Upper Rope Ground and a couple of small Rope-Making Machines

Number 4 House Machine Room

The middle section of a machine capable of making rope from  three inches up to seven inches in circumference, any length without a splice. It is thirty-two feet in height and driven by an electric motor.

Number 4 Rope Store

Boiler House

120 BHP. Sisson Engine Direct Coupled to Clarke-Chapman Dynamo

One of our Motors by Crompton 40 BHP – These Manila Ropes have been running eight years and are still in first class condition.

Engineers’ Shop with Smiths’ Shop adjoining

Carpenters’ Store & Store for Spare Gear

Exhibit at Earl’s Court Naval & Shipping Exhibition, 1905

View of the Factory before the Fire in 1860

View of the Factory as it is now in 1905 – extending from Commercial St

Images courtesy Bishopsgate Institute

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10 Responses leave one →
  1. January 30, 2015

    Amazing machines!

    In the last generation’s memory, ropemakers lived in the caves outside Castleton in Yorkshire. My mum nursed one of them when she was a new nurse in Sheffield, at the Hallamshire I think.
    Years later, when I was little, we went to the ropemakers’ caves, where the last ropemaker was still working – though more for tourists than ‘real’ trade. He was the one my mum had nursed, they remembered each other and he gave us a rope.
    I was quite small, so don’t remember much. But the cave was dry and wide and I remember the machine, which looked like the one in the second picture.

  2. January 30, 2015

    5th picture!

  3. January 30, 2015


    Love & Peace

  4. NIki Holmes permalink
    September 8, 2016

    I have been researching my family tree and have found that many generations of one branch of my family (Spillman – spelt in various ways) were twine and rope makers in the East End of London.

    Seeing theses images has given me a greater feel and empathy with how life must have been for them all. Perhaps they are even IN some of these photographs!

  5. Maralyn P,umb permalink
    September 10, 2016

    I found the photos and information very interesting. I have been researching my ancestors among them, Spillman, Day, Pope, Edwards. So many of them were involved in rope making in Camberwell and thereabouts. So pleased I found this site, very informative. Thanks.

  6. Sharon Hill permalink
    July 29, 2017

    Wow thank you.My great great grandfather was a rope maker around Bermondsey so very helpful .

  7. Gillian Pattenden permalink
    July 18, 2018

    very interesting. My mother and grandmother both worked in the British Rope Works in Charlton in the 1940s. Although this was later than the period shown in your photos, it has given me a good idea of the process involved. How I wish I had spoken to these ladies about the place and the work.

  8. david lee, permalink
    February 2, 2019

    my grandfather, edwin hales, was a ropemaker, in east london, what great photos, and a great product, david grandson,

  9. John Allen permalink
    February 23, 2020

    My great great and great grandfathers were ropemakers. in the following census my great grandad changed careers and become a master plasterer! They lived in Narrow Street according to the Census and other searches. I’m sure one of them is pictured in two of the pictures. I can only dream and wonder. thanks for posting these pictures.

  10. John M Glover permalink
    November 8, 2023

    In 1966 I married Josephine Victoria frost, only daughter of Rebecca and Alfred Douglas Frost.
    His great grandfather was one of several brothers who were involved in the Fost brothers rope works. Unfortunately one of the brothers was not too bright, and to give him a job in the company he was made chief officer of the company fire brigade.
    Douglas Frost had little if any knowledge of that part of his family,however, somehow he passed to me a watercolour of Frost the fire chief, an illustrated catalogue of the company works etc, and a very interesting Pedigree of Frost … dating around 1668 to 1880’s , which at the moment is being framed to protect it from further deteriation.Should any of this be of interest , please do not hesitate to get in touch.

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