Sailing the British Empire : The Voyages of The Clarence, 1858-73

The Master Builder: William Pile

     The story of William Pile Junior, the masterful and renowned shipbuilder who built the Clarence, begins in 1823 when he was born, son of William Pile Senior, also a shipbuilder. William had one brother, named John. As soon as William left school...(Click the map below to zoom in, then click again to zoom in more!)

Monkwearmouth on the map.,
     Pile continued his apprenticeship with his father until he was about 20, when he was ready to move onto bigger and better things!

William Pile's Shipyard in North Sands, Sunderland.
Courtesy of Sunderland Museum and Winter Gardens. Painted c. 1830.

     In 1852, Pile crafted for John Hay of Sunderland the King Richard, a gorgeous 1,049 ton full-rigged ship. The creation of this incredible vessel was a turning point in his career.

One of these later-requested ships, the Windsor Castle was built by Pile in 1857 for Green, and is pictured here.
Nautical Photo Agency

     Pile's ability to create first-class ships for a cheaper price earned him a lot of loyal customers (including His Imperial Majesty Napoleon III-See entry 6 under "Iron and Composite Ships"!) that demanded a multitude of ships; by 1865 Pile's yard employed 3,000 men. Click through the book below to see all of the ships Pile made! 

A list of ships built by William Pile, copied from the notebook of Thomas Collie Stamp, first cashier to William Pile. 
Merchant and Sailing Ships

Or, if you're more into super-neat excel spreadsheets, we've got that too. (Click the image below to view the full document.)

     Pile had a highly fruitful career, creating nearly 200 ships in his lifetime. However, his skills with money did not quite equal his ship-crafting abilities, and Pile struggled with debt until he died in 1873. However, even after his death, his legacy continued, so much so that nearly 150 years later he is still considered one of the best ship builders of all time.

A bust of William Pile
Sunderland Museum & Winter Gardens


1. Bowen, F C. "Pile of Sunderland." Shipbuilding and Shipping Record 65 (1945): 69. Print
2. MacGregor, David R. Merchant Sailing Ships 1850-1875: Heyday of Sail. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1984. Print.

Other Sources Utilized

Clarke, J F. Building Ships on the North East Coast: A Labour of Love, Risk, and Pain. Vol 2. Whitley Bay: Bewick Press, 1997. Print.


-Matt Schofield, U Penn Class of 2019


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