• Henry Castle

  • The founder of the Shipbreaking business Henry Castle was born in 1808 and died in 1865. Henry had an adventurous early life migrating to Sydney, Australia in the 1830's before returning to Rotherhithe by 1838. He was an experienced shipbuilder, ship owner and repairer, and was clearly set on entering the shipbreaking business at an early stage. Attempts to acquire HMS Rainbow from the Admiralty in 1838 for breaking up met with no success and despite repeated efforts he was not finally successful in acquiring Naval ships for breaking until the partnership with William Beech was formed.

    In 1838 the business was located at 11 Lucas Street, Rotherhithe and in 1841 had moved to the King & Queen Dry Dock, Rotherhithe. It was not until 1843 that the move to Baltic Wharf near Vauxhall Bridge was undertaken. At that time the various wharfs there belonged to Edward Warne, a property developer.  Henry was a joint tenant with his brother-in-law Samuel Nash in 1843.  However by 1845 Henry was the sole tenant.

    During the 1850s Castles were involved in the breaking up of Royal Mail Line ships. In 1858 the Orinocco belonging to the Royal Mail Steam Packet Company is recorded as being broken up at Castles Yard near Vauxhall.  Three other ships are also recorded as being broken up at Vauxhall namely the Severn, the Great Western and the Magdalena.

    From around 1856 connections with the Admiralty were developed and by 1860 the Beech partnership was entered into by the new H Castle & Sons partnership consisting of Henry and his two sons Sidney Nash Castle and Abercrombie Castle. Beech was by then based at the Bulls Head Dock having taken over the Beatson site in 1859 - see Temeraire Connection.

    A second shipbreaking yard was opened at Charlton around 1856 and it is from here that Castle & Beech operated. This yard was known as ‘Anchor and Hope Wharf’ and/or ‘Riverside Wharf’. This site appears to have been the property of the Crown and was first used by Castles and let to Castle & Beech for the breaking up of H M ships.  In 1864 a request from Castles that these premises be styled ‘Admiralty shipbreaking Yard’  was approved.

    Charlton was an important location for breaking up as the ships were first moored mid-stream at Charlton Buoys and the upper decks were substantially dismantled there first of all before the remaining hulk was brought alongside the wharf for final breaking.

    After his death in 1865 Henry Castle the business was continued by his sons Sidney Nash and Abercrombie. By the mid 1870s Abercrombie had retired from the partnership and Sidney Nash Castle then brought his two sons into the business: Sidney Castle (1864-1937) and Philip Castle (1868-1938). Together they built upon the successes of the earlier years and eventually became a limited company in 1894, Henry Castle & Sons Ltd, with both sons as Directors.

    Longs Wharf Woolwich was opened in 1873 and much of the shipbreaking activities and furniture manufacturing took place at that location – see Long's Wharf. Over 200 naval ships have been traced as ending their days at Castles Yards at Charlton and Woolwich.

    Major difficulties arose in 1904 when the ‘Ajax’ contract incurred substantial losses for the company and the subsequent re-organisation of 1904/06 is known to have placed considerable strains on the family. Sidney Nash Castle died in 1910 aged 72.  By 1911 Sidney had moved to Blythe to work for the then relatively new shipbreaking firm of Hughes Bolckow. However by 1919 Sidney had moved to Plymouth, Devon, while Philip remained at Baltic Wharf until he retired from the business in 1933. 

    The Plymouth business of Sidney Castle was then acquired by William Ball, originally himself from Plymouth, who had worked at Castles in London for many years and had reached a senior management position in the Castles Shipbreaking company. Sidney Castle continued as General Manager of the Plymouth business until his death in 1937.