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Ipswich Icons: Des Pawson and his display in the Ipswich Maritime Trust Window Museum

PUBLISHED: 16:27 18 June 2018 | UPDATED: 16:27 18 June 2018

Des Pawson and the fruits of his devotion. Picture: ANDY PARKER

Des Pawson and the fruits of his devotion. Picture: ANDY PARKER


Des Pawson shares his story and background with guest columnist Andy Parker after his display in the Ipswich Maritime Trust Window Museum.

The Ipswich Maritime Trust Window Museum: open 24/7, 365 days a year!. Picture: ANDY PARKERThe Ipswich Maritime Trust Window Museum: open 24/7, 365 days a year!. Picture: ANDY PARKER

As the current Ipswich Maritime Trust Window Museum features a guest exhibition from the Museum of Knots and Sailors’ Ropework I thought “Why not tell the story of this private collection/museum and the man who put it together, Des Pawson” – Ipswich Icons in their own right.

Des surrounds his home and museum with knots and rope and is regarded as the number one expert in the UK, and maybe the world, on the subject, co-founding in 1982 the International Guild of Knot Tyers.

His business Footrope Knots makes ropes to order. Des’s most recent project has been creating a replica RNLI bow pudding for the preserved lifeboat at Whitby from synthetic hemp, following an 1808 design.

In 1996 Des and wife Liz decided to open a museum to recognise and raise awareness of the art and skill of knots and the sailors who tied them. It is the largest collection in the UK and contains many items that in the past have not been valued or exhibited by museums.

Des Pawson takes a rope-making 
workshop at Quay Place Wellbeing and Heritage Centre in Ipswich in 2016. His 'pupils' are Naomi Simons and Humaira Rahim. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWNDes Pawson takes a rope-making workshop at Quay Place Wellbeing and Heritage Centre in Ipswich in 2016. His 'pupils' are Naomi Simons and Humaira Rahim. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

From sea chest handles, shaving brushes and walking sticks from the 1800s to sennit rope mats and rope fenders from the 20th Century, Des’s collection has items from Europe and across the world.

You may have seen it featured on Channel 4’s Shed of the Year 2017. Des is in the process of having his collection catalogued and taken into the larger museum of Chatham Historic Dockyard, home to a rope walk and at the shipbuilding centre of the 18th Century Royal Navy.

This is the perfect home for it and it will be open to more of the public, with greater resources to look after it for years to come. But before it goes to Kent, the Ipswich Maritime Trust, to which Des has been a key contributor since the late 1980s, has had the opportunity to exhibit some significant pieces (and Des’s favourites).

The most eye-catching is the incredibly heavy anchor cable from HMS Victory. It dates from the 1920s, was probably made at the dockyard in Chatham, weighs 65 kilos and is about 25 inches in circumference. A cable consists of three ropes of three strands twisted and bound for strength.

The total length would have been 187 metres and its breaking strain 80 tonnes. Des’s collection also includes a ropemaking machine from 1682, with samples of cordage and rope ancient and modern from around the world, with several samples in the window museum display.

His museum has several other machines, and if you ever get the opportunity to see him demonstrate ropemaking, you are witnessing an expert practising an important maritime skill often forgotten and overlooked. The remaining rope walk in Ipswich is now a residential street, but this key trade supported several other rope walks in the town over the years.

One of Des’s favourite items is a sennit mat made by Walter George Chivers in 1922. These mats are made from the yarns of old rope and are a good example of the sailors’ craft. Examples are extremely rare today as they normally are thrown away when no longer used as door mats. If you come across old examples, they might be 100 years old or more and made from rope that has travelled across the oceans.

If you get a chance to go down to Ipswich Waterfront this summer, check out the display and let us know what you think of the Museum of Knots and Sailors Ropework on social media, using hashtag #KnotsandRopework.

The IMT team who look after the window are always looking for volunteers to help them conserve the collection and take part in our exhibitions, so get in contact if you would like to take part.Ipswich Maritime Trust is a charity that came to life following the Maritime Ipswich 82 celebrations.

It was formed at a time when the Wet Dock was in decline and its aim was to find ways to help bring the Wet Dock, now the Waterfront, back to life – something largely achieved. The trust arranged the Sail Ipswich event in 1997, which was the beginnings of the ever-popular Ipswich Maritime Festivals. Today the principal aim of IMT is to protect and promote the astonishing maritime history and heritage of Ipswich and the River Orwell that reaches back to the 7th Des: Man who keeps stories and skills alive Guest columnist Andy Parker, a local historian working closely with Ipswich Maritime Trust, on a ‘local hero’ Century. The trust undertakes a wide range of educational activities for all ages, including support for local charities such as

Sea Change Sailing Trust, and maintaining its Window Museum on Albion Quay, near DanceEast on the Waterfront. The trust is always looking for volunteers to help visit the website to find out more.

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