1. History of Dawes Twine Works
1 In 1830 Israel Rendell 12 , a twine manufacturer lived at Millbrook House and his name appears in directories in connection with that trade until 1875. Rendell was listed as a ‘sail-cloth manufacturer’, but because the making of twine was an integral part of sail-making, twine-making was not listed separately until much later.
2 Although Rendell was a man of substance, there appears to have been only one narrow twine walk on the Millbrook site – hardly sufficient to warrant the description ‘sail-cloth maker’, even though he also dealt extensively in flax. It is therefore likely that he operated ‘open’ walks in the long, level, clear space in the grounds of Millbrook House where John Dawe subsequently built his works, with the twisting heads and other machinery housed in the open-fronted buildings at the eastern end of the site.
3 When John Dawe took over the business from Rendell in 1877, he would have used the existing facilities until he built his own works. The new buildings were completed in 1899 when William Sibley & Son, of the Parrett Works, Martock, built and installed the machinery for the sum of £990 12s. The ‘mechanised’ process of twine manufacture needed more cover than the traditional ways; but still required airy conditions, hence the open-sided walk, which would also have allowed work to continue during inclement weather.
4 In 1889 John Dawe was described as a ‘twine maker’ of the Millbrook Works. The 1st Edition of the relevant ordinance survey map of 18873 shows a narrow walk to the north of Millbrook House but nothing on the present site. By the time the map was revised in 19034 the Twine Works buildings had been completed and are shown substantially as they are today.
5 The Millbrook Works was constructed almost entirely of timber, bolted together and roofed with double roman clay tiles made by A G Pitts of Highbridge. The east end of the walk including the office and drying area was enclosed by walls of light boarding, while the west end of the walk consisted of the old stone boundary wall. The loft, or twisting walks, was only two thirds boarded over, with open spaces on each side, further increasing the airiness of the building. The only solid brick structure was the engine shed where, judging by the size of the coal store and the quantity of coal ordered in the early years, there must have been a steam engine, although no physical evidence of this survives. There was then an oil-gas engine, of which the concrete base and holding-down bolts survive, as does the large exhaust pipe which was led up through the drying room, where it must have provided considerable heat. Later still, electric motors were installed as well ‘home made’ bar heaters in the drying room.
6 A great deal of information relating to the business is contained in four books:
- ‘A Book of Composition and Costs of Various Twines’ dated 1877;
- ‘Petty Cash Book’ — 1899 to 1914
- ‘Bought Ledger’ – 1899 to 1914
- Sales ledger 1868 to 1874 which the trust has recently had restored
7 In January 1899 the firm’s annual income was £88 13s 2d with expenditure of £83 12s 4d. In December 1914 the annual income was £91 15s with expenditure of £85 14s 9d. In 1914 the business had a healthy bank balance of £3,034 17s 8d. In 1910 the firm purchased materials to the value of £3,258 15s 10d, selling goods to the value of £5,227 19s 8d. Also in 1910 advertising space of 1/10th of a page was taken for 12 months in ‘The Cabinet Maker and Complete House Furnisher’.
8 Dawe had dealings with firms as far apart as The Kirkcaldy Spinning Co. in Fife, Scotland, and Max Muller & Co. of Ghent, Belgium. Local firms dealt with were: Baiston & Co., Poole; Burton Spinning Mill Co., Bridport; Drake & Co., East Coker; Hancock & Co., Taunton; Hayward & Co., Coker Works, Crewkerne; Rawlings & Sons, Frome; Smith & Co., The Parrett Works, Martock and Tucker & Co., Slape Mill, Bridport.
9 W S Dawe eventually took over from his father. However, the Works eventually ceased production in 1968.
2 Recent History
1. After its closure in 1968 the Twine Works lay vacant until 1980, when an Industrial Museum for Somerset was still a possibility, and the Somerset Industrial Archaeological Society approached Mr Dawe, asking if he would donate the redundant machinery for future display in the new museum. Mr Dawe agreed and in December 1980 a full measured drawing and photographic survey of the Works was undertaken before the machinery was to be removed. Because his wife was very ill, Mr Dawe asked the Society to delay the removal of the machinery. Sadly, Mrs Dawe passed away and shortly after her death Mr Dawe also died. Before the Society was aware of what had happened, the property was sold to a boat and general dealer and the Works became full of his stock of spare parts.
2 At this point South Somerset District Council became interested in securing the future of the Works, and the buildings were Listed Grade II in 1984. In 1996 the Council became actively involved in seeking to secure the future of the Works and convened a meeting of interested parties, including the Royal Commission on the Historic Monuments of England, the Industrial Buildings Preservation Trust, the Royal Dockyard at Chatham, Somerset Industrial Archaeological Society. With the owner’s consent, South Somerset District Council asked Somerset Industrial Archaeological Society to help list and tag all the machinery and ancillary equipment. This work was completed in January 1997.
3 It was discovered that, although there were other rural rope and twine walks surviving throughout the country, Dawe’s was the only one to have retained all of its machinery. This prompted a full investigation of the site by the Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of England (which merged with English Heritage in 1999). The results of the investigation were published in 1998 and the listing of the Works was upgraded to Grade II* in 1999.
4 At the same time the Industrial Buildings Preservation Trust commissioned a feasibility study to assess the possible future use of the Works, and the cost of renovation of the buildings and machinery. This was completed in 1999.
5 In 2001 South Somerset District Council decided to acquire the Works, and Somerset Industrial Archaeological Society was asked to review the original inventory and tagging of the machinery. This was completed in November 2001. South Somerset District Council then spent several years negotiating with the owner of the Works, without success, eventually compulsorily purchasing the property in 2005 to save it, promote its restoration and to secure its future.
6 Coker Rope and Sail Trust, set up specifically to manage the conserved property, has, with help from South Somerset District Council, English Heritage, Somerset County Council, the Architectural Heritage ‘Challenge Fund’, the Headley Trust and the Carpenter’s Fellowship, undertook essential stabilisation and repair works in 2010. However, Dawe’s Twine Works remained in a parlous condition and has been on English Heritage’s ‘Listed Buildings at Risk Register’ – category ‘A’ – ‘Immediate risk of further rapid deterioration or loss of fabric; no solution’ – for some considerable time. The whole Works, particularly the existing twine making machinery and equipment which is the most important part of the whole project, was leftl extremely vulnerable and in need of conservation.
7 West Coker residents feel strongly about the need to conserve the village’s rope and twine making history, as demonstrated by the formation of the Coker Rope and Sail Trust. There has been great progress since 2013. The engine house, office, store and the east end of the walk have been repaired and largely restored. An Arts Council ‘PRISM’ grant then funded the restoration of much of the twine-making machinery, and most recently we have installed a ‘new’ oil engine to power it, and in Spring 2015, wereplaced the outer rows of oak posts which support the twinewalk. The restoration is shown on other pages of this website.