07 September 2011

Castles Shipbreaking: Castles History Project

Many people have been surprised that the Castle name still exists. Furthermore the claim that the family was descended from the Castle family of shipbuilders based on the Thames in the 17th century has also created a great deal of interest among many people.

The web site has stimulated a considerable amount of interest to date and the additional information received from all round the world has added a rich source of knowledge about Castles that could not otherwise have been generated very easily.

The activities and lives of the Castle family were adventurous and offer a rich insight into the important, but little understood industry of shipbreaking during the 19th century. The era spanning the lives of Henry Castle and his son Sidney Castle and grandsons is of particular relevance to this fascinating period about the history of The Thames and of the Royal Navy.

This web site therefore concentrates, in the main, on the commercial activities of Henry Castle and his family, However an important and parallel study has been undertaken into the Castle family tree dating back to the seventeenth century in an endeavour to prove the link with William Castle and his brother Robert Castle, shipbuilders in Rotherhithe & Deptford in the 1660s and 1670s. The former is mentioned several times in Pepys's Diaries.

Investigations and research have shown that records were destroyed over the years. Limitations in the scope of the research have also occurred because of the destruction of records by Companies House as well as a result of Second World War bombings. In addition much of the written material available is anecdotal and has never been properly authenticated.

Historians of The Thames find that story about the Castle Yards at Baltic Wharf and Longs Wharf are of special interest.

The researches to date have however unearthed a vast quantity of material, but special care is being taken to examine the validity of all the information available. Inevitably this has proved to be a time consuming process and is ongoing. There is a very interesting story to tell about the last of the wooden sailing ships and their figureheads, a tale of Two Castles, which is summarised within the pages of this web site. We hope you enjoy the visit and look forward to receiving your feedback.

At this time in May 2011 the project is still ongoing and more information comes to light every week mostly via the web and in view of these benefits we have delayed trying to publish a book about the Castle family and its rich heritage.

We have accordingly decided that we will release in phases the story of the history via the web site and visitors who wish to view and read this extraordinary story should follow the links when introduced. We believe this is the best way forward as more information may well come to light and thus enable the web site history book to be constantly updated and modified.

We also feel now that the history is more of an educational project rather than a commercial endeavour.

At the close of the Crimean War in 1856 the Navy was in transition stage from sail to steam, however it had learnt that shells were so destructive to wooden ships that the need for greater protection was needed.

Accordingly an alteration in naval construction became inevitable and armour made from iron plates was secured to the sides of the ships. These new vessels were first introduced from 1861 and were the first wooden armoured sailing ships and known as broadside ironclads. It was significant that in the building of these ships more wood was actually required than for a sailing line of battleship.

By 1860 the problem of finding sufficient timber became the dominant concern and considerable shortages occurred. The move to iron therefore became inescapable as it was cheaper to maintain. This subsequent development finally sealed the fate of the wooden warship.

None the less the advantages to the shipbreaker must have been clear and the market opportunity was ready to be exploited. In 1861 Henry Castle together with William Beech was successful in breaking into this market in a major way. From this time on the Castle family dominated the Shipbreaking industry on the River Thames and their activities span the period from the final years of the sailing ships of the line right through to the introduction of the metal ship towards the end of the 19th century, although wooden ships continued to be available for breaking until the 1930s.

The Castles history of Shipbreaking therefore starts with the disposal of sailing ships, paddle steam vessels and the early screw conversions in the 1860s and 1870s followed by the breaking up of the armoured wooden battleships and frigates in the 1880s and 1890s.

The availability of wooden vessels for breaking was therefore at its height during the second half of the nineteenth century and it would have been apparent to the astute businessman that the rapid developments taking place would create an abundant supply of seasoned timber for recycling purposes. So it proved to be and the period from 1860 to 1938 provided Castles with a unique niche in British Maritime history.

Crossing the Bar by R W Wyllie

This page was last updated on 05/06/2011

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