Ropewalks historically were harsh sweatshops, and frequently caught on fire as hemp dust forms an explosive mixture. Rope was essential in sailing ships and the standard length for a British Naval Rope was 1000 ft (305m). A sailing ship such as HMS Victory required over 20 miles (32km) of rope.
The ropewalk at Chatham Dockyard is still producing rope commercially, and the rope walk has an internal length of 1,135 ft (346m). When it was constructed in 1790 it was the longest brick building in Europe. Before steam power was used in 1836, it took over 200 men to form and close a 20in (circumference) cable laid rope. . The rope walk is used to form and close the rope, these being the final stages in rope making. Before this the raw hemp, manila or sisal has to be hatchel, spun into yarn, and tarred