interest in World War 1 shipbuilding, it was a short
to the end of the process - the Shipbreaking Industry.
notes from the few sources, including an article from a
gem of a book - the two volume "Shipping Wonders of the
World" published in the 1930's. Because the book is long
out of print and would not be available to many, I
decided to transcribe the whole article - if I had
time, I would do the same for the complete book. I would
like to obtain permission, but have been unable to find
the copyright owner.
complete article with photographs is to the right.
Following are the notes I made, including some
from Frank C Bowen's story
Although useful building material and parts from old
ships have always been re-used, ships were more likely to be
abandoned to fall to pieces in some out of the way place. What
warship salvage did take place, was usually in the Royal Dockyards - Devonport, Portsmouth,
Chatham, Sheerness, Pembroke Dock.
See Royal Naval
The pioneer of wooden shipbreaking and the re-cycling of
material and parts was Henry Castle’s of Baltic Wharf, Millbank,
on the River Thames in 1838, and later at Charlton and Woolwich.
Turner’s famous painting “The Fighting Temeraire” shows
her being towed to Castle’s yard.
They specialised in wooden warships,
and for example, Liberty’s of
London, the famous shop, was rebuilt in 1922 using oak from
Impregnable and Hindostan that were broken up on the Thames. Castle’s also
kept the figureheads, which were later restored by the Admiralty and
displayed at dockyards and shore establishments.
This is at least the second case of scrapyard "dealers"
doing a great service for British heritage that I am
aware of. The other was Dai Woodham of Barry, South
Wales who held on to over 200 steam locomotives instead
of scrapping them.
Much more research is
needed into the history of this once-important part of
the British industrial scene.
Rise of the Industry
In the 1880’s, Denny Bros, of Dumbarton started using
scrap steel in the building of new ships, and was followed by other
pioneer of iron and steel shipbreaking including the re-cycling of brass, copper, lead, cast iron, and all other useable
material and parts was Thomas W Ward Ltd of Sheffield,
founded in 1878. Ward’s
first yard was at Preston, Lancashire in 1894 (or 1899).
Another steel-maker who moved into shipbreaking was George
Cohen around 1890.
Both before World War 1 and after, countries with few
iron-ore resources, bought British ships for their scrap
steel. These included Holland, Germany, Italy (from 1892),
and Japan (from 1896)
major warship scrapping was due to the First Sea Lord, Admiral Fisher,
who championed the all-big gun Dreadnought. His policy
was that ships "to weak
to fight, too slow to run away" should be taken out of
service. As a result, 154 ships were removed
from the effective list in 1905. Many were sold for scrap,
with the first 29
auctioned at Chatham Dockyard in April 1905, and sold for £138,000.
Pre-World War 1 Shipbreaking Yards
Shipbreaking at Bo’ness, West Lothian, was opened in
1905 by P & W MacLellan of Glasgow
at Morecombe, Lancashire, 1905 by Thomas W Ward,
believed in operation until after World War 1
Ward’s at Briton Ferry, Glamorgan, near to the South
Wales steel industry, 1906 by Thomas W Ward, until
well after World War 2
Tyne yard by
steelmakers Hughes Bolckow, c 1909
Newport yard, Monmouthshire (Gwent) by
steelmakers John Cashmore, c 1909,
Blyth yard, Northumberland by
steelmakers Hughes Bolckow, Blyth, 1912, closed 1980
Post-World War 1 Yards - 1920's
After the war, most naval vessels built pre-1910 were
declared redundant and the Admiralty started selling
them from Spring 1919, including 22 Dreadnought
battleships and battlecruisers, totalling about 500,000
tons. Existing companies opened new yards and new
companies were started up:
Thomas W Ward is believed to have had a total of
13 yards by the 1920's, including the three listed above
(from north to south, west to east):
Inverkeithing, Fife, Scotland, on the Firth of Forth,
Barrow-in-Furness, Lancashire, 1894
Morecombe, Lancashire, 1905
Preston, Lancashire, 1894 or 1899
Lincolnshire, on the Humber Estuary, 1920
Pembrokeshire, Wales, 1920
Glamorgan, Wales, 1909
Briton Ferry, Glamorgan, 1906
Somerset, on the Bristol Channel, 1921
Essex, on the Thames Estuary, 1919
Kent, on Thames Estuary, 1919
north Cornwall, 1920
across from Hayle, Cornwall, 1920
Other Yards opened or in operation in the 1920's
included the following, in alphabetical order. Some of
these were agencies which resold vessels to other firms
Ship Breaking Co, Rosyth & Charlestown (open 1922‑30),
became Metal Industries about 1930
Young, Dalmuir (associated with West of Scotland Ship
Barking Ship Breaking Co (1920‑21)
Batson Syndicate (1922)
C. A., Upnor (1921‑24) and Teignmouth (1921)
A. A. (1922)
Burden, W. & A. T. (1921)
Cardiff Marine Stores (1920)
Cashmore, Newport (1911)
Castle, S, Plymouth (1920-35)
Clarkson, Whitby (1919‑21)
Briton Ferry (from 1897), Felixstowe (1906-10), Swansea
Cornish Salvage Co, Ilfracombe (1920)
& Danks, Upnor (1922), Queenborough (1922), sold to Metal
Industries in 1949. Queenborough yard broke-up
dreadnoughts Orion and Erin in the 1920's.
Demmellweek & Redding, Plymouth
Ship Breaking Co (1922‑23) (possibly Dover
T. E., Cardiff (1920‑22)
Ship Breaking Co, Bo'ness (1906‑20), then McLellan
Fryer, B, Sunderland (1921‑23)
Granton Ship Breaking Co (1919‑26).
Hammond Lane Foundry, Dublin (1920)
A. O, Dover (1929).
Houston, J. W, Montrose (1923).
Hughes, Bolckow, Tyne (1909‑23); Blyth (1912),
also believed Jarrow. Blyth and Jarrow shared in the
breaking-up of battlecruiser Lion in the 1920's.
Jackson, J (1919)
Keen, W. G., Bristol (1923)
King, Garston (1890‑1926)
J. J., Troon (1905‑34)
Lee, J. H., Dover (1919‑22) and Bembridge (1919‑20).
Lithgow, Port Glasgow, Renfrewshire
Loveridge & Co (1919).
& McKee, Porthcawl (1919)
& Gillott, Saltash (1921‑22)
McLellan, B'ness (1922).
Industries, Rosyth (1930) and Charlestown (1935).
Multilocular Ship Breaking Co, Stranraer, (1919‑22).
E. W. (1920).
Plymouth & Devon Ship Breaking Co, Plymouth (1926).
Pounds, Portsmouth (1925‑date)
Purves, Teignmouth (1920)
Richardson, Westgarth, Saltash (1923)
Rijsdljk (Dutch), Upnor (1909‑20)
Ship Breaking Co (1922)
Sales, T. R. (1919)
Breaking Co, Swansea (1922)
Shipbreaking Industries, Rosyth,
Firth off Forth
Smith, J., Poole (1922‑23)
Trading Co (an agency for German buyers).
South Wales Salvage Co (1921)
Stanlee, Dover (1920‑24)
Thomas, J. E., Newport (1921)
Thomas, W., Anglesey (1921)
Towers, J. W., Milford Haven (1920)
Unity Ship Breaking Co, Plymouth (1922‑23)
Ship Breaking Co, Upnor (1914‑24)
of Scotland Ship Breaking Co, Troon (1912), (associated
with Arnott Young)
Willoughby, Plymouth (1920)
Yates, Montague (1919‑20)
Young, Sunderland (1922‑23)
Shipbreaking - 1930's
naval shipbreaking was over by the mid-1920’s, although
three British capital ships did not meet their end until
the early 1930's - battleships Benbow by Metal
Industries, Rosyth in 1931, Marlborough by the same
company in 1932, and battlecruiser Tiger by Wards at
Inverkeithing in 1932.
The scuttled German capital ships raised at Scapa Flow (see
"Cox's Navy") were broken up by Metal Industries at
Rosyth in the mid-1930's.
The only other major breaking was in 1936 when the Navy
exchanged 34 old warships, mainly destroyers
plus sloops Godetia and Iroquois with Ward's in
part exchange for liner Majestic, which was converted to
training ship Caledonia.
there was little warship scrapping until post World War 2.
Post-World War 2
During World War 2 the British Iron & Steel Corporation
(BISCO) was formed, and most of the ships from then on were sold to this body
allocated to various yards for scrapping. This included
11 battleships and battlecruisers by 1949.
The following yards in the post-war period were obtained
from the excellent series “To Sail No More”:
Shipbreakers & Ship Repairers, Blyth
Brechin, Granton, west of Leith
Valley Shipbreakers, Millom, near Barrow
MacLellan, P & W, Carriden
Queensborough Breakers, Medway
Shipbreaking Industries, Faslane and Rosyth
J A, Forth
Other warship breaking yards from a variety of sources
Charlestown and Rosyth
Plymouth, Ramsgate and Richborough
Cove & Distinn
Demellweek & Redding,
Dohmen & Habets,
Hayes, Pembroke Dock
Houston, J.W., Montrose
King, Garston and
Lithgow, Col J.
Marple & Gillet, Saltash
Charlestown and Rosyth
Midland Iron & Hardware Co,
Plymouth & Devonport Shipbreaking
Pounds, J H,
Richardson Westgarth, Saltash
Robinson, Brown & Joplin, possibly mercantile only
"The Shipbreaking Industry"
by Frank C Bowen, from the two volume "Shipping Wonders of the
World", edited by Clarence Winchester in the 1930's
“To Sail No More”, Parts 1-5, published by Maritime Books, 1997-2000
Conway's "All the World's Fighting Ships"