The West Coker Twine Works

Coker Ropewalk

The site was recorded as a twine works in 1830 when the twine would have been made in the open. Twine was used to stitch sailcloth and at this time “Coker Canvas” was the best you could buy. The present building dates from around 1890.

300 ft long with a pantiled tiled roof, rapidly sinking and being taken back by nature. Propped by scaffolding and tied together with cables and chains. Not a fine oak building more an oversized garden shed. But still a listed and historically important timber construction.

The building was a quick construction to make money and not intended to last. The earth fast posts, without any bracing,were of oak. A coating of pitch to protect them below ground level. They showed clear evidence of reuse presumably from the earlier rope walk. The remaining timber was Baltic deal which had been sprayed with lime to deter beetle attack. Cut on a bandsaw, brought in as 14” and 16” planks then cut locally to the required sizes with a circular saw. Jointing, very simple and quick, mostly half lap fixed with nails and then bolted. At some point an upper floor had been Inserted and the truss collars removed.

The Dawes Twine Works closed in 1968, but uniquely all it's original machinery was left in place. The site was recognised for it's historic value as early as 1980 when the first survey was carried out, with a full inventory taken in 1996. Further surveys in 1997 established the cost of the renovation, but no finance was available. After years of neglect South Somerset District Council stepped in to save the building in 2005 with a compulsory purchase order. The Coker Rope and Sail Trust was formed to raise money for the restoration. Featuring on the BBC Restoration program provided much needed publicity but sadly no funds.

By 2009 the building was in a state of collapse. Earth fast posts had rotted. It was only the temporary shoring that kept gravity from taking it. The Carpenters Fellowship involvement started early in that year and a short presentation was made at Frame. The site would be repaired a a rendezvous event with the local involved and the opportunity of training.

The original concept was to remove the tiled roof covering and run a summer meet to support and repair the building. The possibility of bats in the roof changed everything. A March start was planned when the building would be raised and stabilised with the roof and bats still in place.

To allow the restoration to begin the site had to be cleared by the Coker Rope and Sail Trust. Having now seen several ropewalks we know they have a magnetic attraction to junk. If you have a 300ft shed you never need to throw anything away. After 120 years this one was getting full. The usual assortment of tyres and rusty steel there was accompanied by the national collection of old starter motors, a fine library of soggy outboard motor repair manuals, car parts from the 50's and a reclining shops manikin. Clearance started with a group of local volunteers then stopped when abruptly when police arrived intent on catching a group of burglars reported as stealing historic treasures. Now what was said when they came upon 12 locals with steel toe boots, high viz jackets, hard hats, fire extinguishers and accompanied with there own safety officer was never reported. Police assistance was needed on a number of occasions to allow workers to “escape” from the site after the entrance had been blocked by the previous owner.

Charley Brentnal headed up a 10 man team to carry out the works. A one week program had been agreed to carry out the works. The aim was to lift the entire building to it's original level and drag it back up the hill from where it had slipped. A custom made scaffold had been inserted to completely support the structure. All posts would be disconnected and the building could be raised from this on screw jacks. The jacks supported 150x150 timber bearers on which the cross frames could be moved horizontally using three 3.5 tonne Turfor winches.

The work was always planned as a community event and the Coker villagers were behind the project. Somebody said “carpenters like cake”, the good ladies of the village took this to heart . Months spent baking and freezing assorted delights and we only had a week to eat them. Each morning another big box of treats would arrive with strict instructions that nothing was to be returned. For future CF events a “provision of cake clause” should be written into the contract. The catering became a competitive sport. Different locals preparing the lunches throughout the week and all trying to outdo the earlier menus. A full 3 course meal every lunchtime with more food than we could eat. Planning had been meticulous but a certain amount of tea drinking and new ideas were required.

The bolts securing the posts were 120 years old rusted solid. The Milwaukee 18v impact driver, with an awesome 610Nm torque,tore apart the first custom made bolt adaptor. The Mk2 version looked like it was made by a shipbuilder and worked a treat. The nuts tried to resisted but with that much power on tap they had no chance..

Raising the building was to prove simple, with 92 screw jacks and around 60 turns required on each jack it was just a matter of attrition. Custom made scaffold head turners did not work as well as expected. Creativity ran riot, with lots of different solutions to the problem. Joe adopted the “stick and string” while others went for the aluminium tube and hit it with a big hammer approach. All worked well but it was the stick and string that was reported in the local press as the “traditional tool” for adjusting the aluminium screw jacks!

Throughout the week numerous artefact were recovered from the site. When the twine broke during manufacture the workers were charged, so the evidence was quickly wound up and hidden. Tucked behind rafters were many of these small balls of twine. Half inch glass rods across which the twine ran had deep cut marks worn in the surface.

Further work is now being carried out by local tradesmen. The site is now open as a museum with plans to reinstate the equipment and once again make twine at the site.