From The Story of Belfast by Mary Lowry (circa 1913)
THE Belfast Ropeworks Company is known over the world, not only as being the largest in existence, but also for the variety and excellence of its products. It now covers an extent of thirty-four acres, and gives employment to many thousands. Until the year 1740, all cordage was imported from England, then a ropemaking place was commenced by John McCracken in the year 1758.
John Street was in 1800 known as the old Rope Walk. This street was absorbed in Royal Avenue, and was swept away when the new thoroughfare was opened. Thomas Ekenhead was for many years the principal ropemaker in Belfast. His private residence is now a bonded store in Donegall Quay. It was once considered to be a very fine house, and at that time was at the edge of the river, with a lovely prospect of green fields and trees, and an uninterrupted view as far as the Holywood hills. Thomas Ekenhead died of cholera in 1832. His brother, Captain Ekenhead, swam across the Hellespont with Lord Byron, which is mentioned in "Hero and Leander" in the lines where he tells of the reckless lover who swam across the dividing waters. "Leander, Mr. Ekenhead and I did." Their sister Mrs. Dummitt, built and endowed the Ekenhead Church in memory of her brother Thomas. She also founded a scholarship in Trinity College for lads from County Down.
Then in later years we find the Belfast Ropeworks Company has made a marvellous business. Every kind of rope and cord that is possible, from the heaviest cable to the finest twine, is made here. Another most interesting branch of the work is making fishing nets, which have to be made by hand. The firm turns out one hundred tons of rope and twine every week, and gives employment to 3,600 workers. When visiting the place the machines for winding the cord into balls are well worth special attention, as it is done so quickly and neatly, and all the work is finished in the most perfect manner.