Clear evidence of ropemaking in Hawes begins with the household census returns for 1841* in which Thomas Wharton, aged 60, and his sons Richard, 30, and John, 20, are listed as ropemakers. Information in other census returns suggests that it was at least 1830 before the Wharton family moved to Hawes, probably from a neighbouring dale.
The Wharton's ropemaking business was based at the Old Toll Bar, later known as the Gate House, which still exists on the outskirts of Hawes on the road leading to Ingleton. The family, including Thomas's wife Mary and youngest children Thomas, 16, and Mary, 15, may have been toll-keepers as well as ropemakers. The ropewalk ran parallel to the toll-road, allowing passers-by to watch the family at work.
As well as the regular trade at the fortnightly cattle markets, which until 1919 took place in the main street, extra demand for ropes was created during the special fairs in June, September and October, for horses, cattle and tups (rams) respectively. Every rope made required the labour of two people, one to turn the wheel and the other to lay the rope.
By 1851 Thomas had employed a thirteen year old boy, William, as a wheelturner † to help John in the manufacturing process. The business also had to support at least four younger members of the Wharton household, including a future ropemaker of the third generation.
Following his father's death in 1852 John (1) took over as head of the household and trained his nephew, John (2), Thomas's grandson, as an assistant ropemaker. Having successfully served his apprenticeship John (2) graduated as a journeyman, making way for another of Thomas's grandsons, John (3), to follow the family tradition. At the age of 14, in 1881, the latter was already an assistant ropemaker, eventually succeeding his father John (1) as proprietor of the business at the age of 28.
* In the first census (1841) ages were rounded off to the nearest five years.
† Electricity now supplies the power formerly provided by an apprentice, who turned the wheel that put twist into the rope.
The ropemaking business continued to support John Wharton (3) and his family for a further ten years until, at the age of 38, having spent at least twenty-four years making rope, he `retired' and sold the business in order to pursue his profound interest in specialist poultry breeding. His successor, Mr. W. R. A.Outhwaite, took over the ropemaking concern in 1905.
At this point the story of the Wharton's involvement in ropemaking ends, but as John Wharton remained an important figure in the local community his subsequent history is worth recording. He served as a local councillor, became chairman of Aysgarth Rural District Council and later a Justice of the Peace. From his home at Honeycott, next to the Gate House, he had a commanding view of his own land and the White Wyandotte poultry which had fascinated him for so long. It was his growing success with poultry which allowed him to sell the ropemaking business and concentrate on his hens. As an enthusiast, breeder and judge he travelled as far as Germany exhibiting and judging at shows, not the least of his personal successes being as a cup winner at Crystal Palace. His family stayed at home when he travelled abroad but he sent one daughter to live in Germany in order to learn the language and thus facilitate business deals.
Mr. T. C. (Kit) Calvert of Hawes tells of two local farmers returning to the dale by rail from a trip to Manchester to sell one hundred lambs. Sharing their carriage John Wharton listened to the story of their success until, joining in the conversation, he recounted his own journey - to sell one White Wyandotte cockerel in Germany. When told that this one sale had realised more profit than all one hundred lambs the farmers were, not surprisingly, speechless. No doubt John Wharton's waxed moustache and dignified figure added conviction to this impressive story.
In spite of his success abroad he was always pleased
to come home. His love
of poultry and bees (after which Honeycott was named) was combined with
an enthusiasm for trees and flowers; family anniversaries and special occasions
were celebrated with tree plantings. His daughter, Mrs. Lilian White, who
was born in 1900 recalls her father leaving the house with pocketfuls of
bulbs which he planted at random on his walks around local lanes.
As he grew older and looked back on his business achievements and travels
he was left with one ambition. This he fulfilled in 1924 when he travelled
Hawes, across the Atlantic, to see the Rocky Mountains and Niagara Falls.
He was away for almost two months and for an all-inclusive price of £208.