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. Picture - 'Crossing the Bar' by R W Wyllie.
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.
Castles Shipbreaking - Castles History Project
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