The conclusion of the Napoleonic Wars would see nearly one hundred years without the Royal Navy being involved in a major conflict against another naval power. The British maintained a sizeable fleet, and the Naval Defence Act of 1890 required the Royal Navy to have the same number of Battleships, as the combined fleets of the next two largest navies (France and Russia). This two power standard was to remain in law until after World War I. Despite the size of the Royal Navy, it could not be everywhere at once, and the extent of the British Empire resulted in some areas having a limited naval presence. The lack of an immediately available naval force required the construction of fixed coastal defences to protect anchorages and harbours while awaiting the arrival of the Royal Navy.
At the start of Queen Victoria’s reign in 1837 the Royal Navy had 78 Ships of the Line and 86 Frigates, primarily powered by the wind. By 1870 the Royal Navy had about 350 vessels including ironclads and the first ships with gun turrets. The old ships of the line were still in service but fast being replaced by steam ships and armoured variants. By 1900 the Royal Navy had a total of 205 ships including 45 Battleships, 126 Cruisers and 34 Torpedo Gunboats. The old ships of the line had now disappeared from active service, often being used as floating accommodation at naval bases. By 1914 the number of vessels had risen to 542 ships, with 68 Battleships, 110 Cruisers, 70 Torpedo Boats and 76 submarines. The increase was not just in numbers but also in quality of warships. 1906 saw the launching of the first ‘modern battleship’ HMS Dreadnought in 1906 with 12-inch guns in turrets and armour up to 11-inches thick.