• Shipbuilding


    Brochures produced in the 1930's for Castles Shipbreaking Co. Ltd. claim that the then living family was directly descended from William Castle who built the fourth Defiance for the Navy at Rotherhithe in 1666.  

    William Castle and his brother Robert were well known shipbuilders on the Thames during the latter half of the seventeenth century and the former is mentioned several times in Pepys's Diaries between 1664 and 1666.  William Castle was married to Martha Batten daughter of Sir William Batten, Surveyor of the  Navy, and was known personally to Pepys. William Castle, being a recognised     expert in the construction of naval vessels, especially third raters, was frequently consulted by Pepys. 

    The Castle family tree from 1700 onwards provides an interesting link with Trinity House and the Harwich Lights, first built by Sir William Batten in 1667. The various shareholdings in the related company were later split between different parts of the family and eventually appear to become untraceable.    

    The subsequent Castles descendants cannot be accurately traced beyond 1718. In consequence the family tree of Castles the Shipbuilders has not yet been linked to the Shipbreaking family of Henry Castle of Rotherhithe. 

    Whilst attempting to trace the links between the two Castle families, the shipbuilders and the shipbreakers, we came across a number of interesting events that took place during the lifetime of Henry Castle’s father George (1783-1852). The latter occupied a ship repairing yard in Rotherhithe known as Anchor Wharf, located between King’s Stairs and Cherry Garden Stairs, which site was located very close to the original 17th century Castles’ yard at Fountain Dock. A distance of not more than a few hundred yards separated the two yards and it was this close physical connection that has led us and others to assume that the two Castle families were related to each other.  This has resulted in the stated belief that the shipbreaking family of Castle was directly descended from William Castle. 

    Accordingly in tracing back George Castle’s ancestry it was confirmed that he was born in Hull, the son of Samuel Castle, brewer and victualler.  George’s grandfather was a shipwright, also from Hull.  George later relocated to the Thames, probably in 1807.  We know that his eldest son, also named George, was born in Hull in 1806 but that Henry Castle, the second son and founder of the shipbreaking business, was born in Rotherhithe in 1808. 

    It appears that George senior took over the occupation of Anchor Wharf. We understand that previously that Wharf had been in the possession of William Beatson a member of the well-known Beatson family, which later acquired and broke up the famous “Fighting Temeraire” in 1838. In 1805 when Beatson was still in occupation of Anchor Wharf a young Mr. Castle accompanied him around the Wharf during a visit by the Thames Commissioners.  This is the first record we have of a probable connection between the Beatson and Castle family during the early nineteenth century. 

    It finally became clear that several generations of the Castles came from Hull. Other information firmly indicated that the family had its roots in the same area of the country and if there was a connection with the Castles in Rotherhithe it seemed appropriate to try and link either George’s father or grandfather with one of the shipbuilding Castles’ or their descendants in Rotherhithe. Unfortunately no such connection has been found so far. 

    We also researched the shipbuilding Castle family tree from the 17th century by investigating the families of William’s brother Robert Castle and of William’s son John. In order to assist us we invited a well-known firm of genealogists to help us do this part of the project as well.  After a long and painstaking research lasting many months no fresh information was uncovered that would enable us to conclude that there was a proven link between the two families. 

    There are a large number of Castles or Castells recorded over the centuries as having lived in the Rotherhithe area and tracing all the various names of William, Robert John, George and Henry has proved nearly impossible. 


    As early as 1637 a Mr. Castle of Rotherhithe is mentioned in the Court minutes of the East India Company when the disposal of the Bridgehouse Land at Stone Wharf, Deptford, was considered, but it is noted that the matter did not proceed. Clearly there was a specific Castle family interest in establishing a presence on that site, as eventually in 1664 a lease of the land and dock there was transferred to William Castle (Batten's son in law).  This latter yard together with the dock at Fountains Wharf, Rotherhithe was where the majority of the Castles 17th century shipbuilding activities took place. 

    The Castle connection with the East India Company existed for some considerable time and it is noted that in 1647 the Bilbao Merchant acquired from a Mr. James was carried into Mr. Castle's Dock at Rotherhithe to be fitted for her intended voyage to the coast. This must have been William Castle's father as the former would only have been eighteen at this time.   

    Furthermore in December 1657 Mr. Castle was appointed to value the WELCOME and its stores, as the ship was considered suitable for the China voyage.  In November 1665 Robert Castle, who according to Pepys had built many and very good merchant ships, built the FORMOSA FRIGATE and was paid £600 for its construction. 

    The East India Company originally leased the Deptford site in the early 1600s. The building yard and dock was first leased to a John Tailor before 1636 and from 1652 to Peter Pett.  In 1664 it was leased to William Castle and later taken over by his brother Robert in 1692.  The lease and occupation of the Yard by the Castles appears to have ended in 1713 when the site was leased to Edward Popley.  Thereafter it progressed through the West family until it was taken over by William Barnard in 1788. 

    The first we learn of the Castles occupying land on the Thames at Rotherhithe is from a map belonging to the Earl of Salisbury dated 1610. The exact location of the Yard is not easy to pinpoint but it is known to be a shipbuilding facility which William Castell was operating. Most of the land shown on the map is located to the east of the Neckinger thus placing it fairly close to the site of the well-known Cherry Garden Stairs. It is certainly clear that the family were probably active in the shipping business during the late Elizabethan era. 

    Research has shown that William Castle was born in 1590 and was probably responsible for building up the business at the Rotherhithe site. His father John who may have negotiated the terms of the tenancy in the early 1600s more likely achieved the acquisition of the site. Certainly the repeated use of the name William & John makes it difficult to be absolutely certain that the right individuals are referred to. 

    Definite confirmation of occupation of the Rotherhithe site by the Castle family comes later in the century in 1684. The Captain Collin's survey published in that year locates the site next to Fountains Stairs at the Fountain Dock.  The site was also known as Narbrough's Yard.  We believe that the Capt. William Castle referred to in Pepys's Diaries, born in 1629 was the son of the William Castell referred to on the Earl of Salisbury's map.  Capt. Castle probably operated the Yard together with his brother Robert. 

    It can be established that the Castell family were shipbuilders as William Castell senior built the first Lion's whelp in 1628. “On the 2nd July 1638 Phineas Pett certified that £566 was due for that vessel. It was one covered by the £7,000 allocated for building ten new pinnaces”.  It is therefore certain that the Castles were well-established and reputable shipbuilders by the middle of the seventeenth century.