Lloyd’s Register of Shipping
& other British Registers
Lloyd’s Register of Shipping should not be confused with Lloyd’s (of London) the insurance market, even although there were some direct links. Both organisations’ names now reflect the famous coffee-house frequented by the variety of professionals associated with the shipping industry. Edward Lloyd did not have any direct input in the production of the registers of shipping, although it is not unreasonable to speculate that the earliest lists of ships might have been formulated at Lloyd’s Coffee-House.
The Register of Shipping appeared in 1760 and was, apparently, the first of its kind in the world. Formulated by underwriters, the earliest versions (only surviving in part from 1764-65-66) may have been hand-written, or as printed sheets. From 1775 onwards there is an unbroken line of surviving copies though and they were then known as the Underwriters’ Register, or the ‘Green Book’. Whatever its form, these were strictly for the use of the subscribers and this policy was to be continued for a considerable time.
In 1769 the underwriters and brokers that compiled their register had moved their operation to their own premises. Temporarily this was in Pope’s Head Alley (known as ‘New Lloyd’s), but then went to the Royal Exchange.
For this exercise it is not necessary to go through the many changes in format in the register. However, some points need making. As already briefly mentioned, the information contained within the registers (that came to be issued annually) was tightly controlled. On the publication of each new register, those in force had to be recalled and carefully accounted for. (The loss, theft or destruction of copies brought significant penalties, as did showing these to non-members.) Vessels were classified, by survey, although in certain respects not too much should be inferred by this, as the criteria was far from objective. Although very much a London based organisation, even there much ill feeling was felt by those that saw themselves adversely affected.
With one particular change in the form of classifications, London shipowners were so unsatisfied that they began to publish their own register, as of 1799. This was officially entitled The New Register of Shipping. Although maintaining that it was produced by merchants, shipowners and underwriters, it appears to only have really been represented by shipowners (at least at the beginning). This resulted in their listing more generally being known at the Shipowners’ Register, or ‘Red Book’. Their premises initially were at 22, Change Alley, then 3 Saint Michael’s Alley.
This was hardly an answer to the not insignificant weaknesses. For a start shipowners were not then required to pay for surveys and consequently, a great many appeared in both of the rival publications. Another highly important problem related to the classification process itself. Far from systematic, apart from being heavily biased towards London-built vessels, age was the main criteria. Saliently, neither organisation was on a sound financial footing.
Soon after the second entity had appeared there had been an unsuccessful attempt to bring both the registers together by the General Shipowners’ Society. Calls by disaffected members (including merchants) of the shipowners’ group in 1823 began a real process of union though. Following negotiations, a Committee of Inquiry was formed in 1824, with deliberations at Lloyd’s. The majority of this committee was made up of London merchants, shipowners and underwriters; with single member representation for some other ports.
Taking a great deal of evidence from far and wide, including outside agencies such as the surveyors of the Royal Navy, Royal Dockyards and the Honourable East India Company, their report was completed in 1826. It called for a completely new and comprehensive system of classification, based on an enlarged and better surveying regime on properly laid down rules for construction and maintenance. The committee were not particularly optimistic about raising the necessary amounts of money to realise their proposals and suggested government aid in the form of a small duty on tonnage, or alternatively on marine insurance premiums. This process faltered.
By the early 1830s both registers were in such a perilous financial state that it looked as if both would go under by about 1834 or so. Through a ‘Special Committee on the Affairs at Lloyd’s’ small sub-committees of the two registers were brought together at the Merchant Seamen’ Office (an Admiralty precursor of the office of the Registrar General of Shipping and Seamen) in August 1833. From this a Joint Committee followed and basically the proposals of the 1824-26 committee were taken up, as of the end of the year. Funding was to be raised, not only through payment by members for copies of the register (encouraging a wider membership), but also by shipowners for classification and surveys - according to a properly constituted scale. The new organisation was fortunate in that it also received extra contributions. Apart from £700 donated by individual underwriters, Lloyd’s of London agreed to making a gift of £1,000 to the new society (the latter paid back not that long after). As well as this the four largest marine insurance companies; the Alliance Marine Assurance Company; London Assurance Corporation; Indemnity Mutual Marine Assurance Company; and the Royal Exchange Assurance Corporation, each agreed to funding of one hundred guineas per annum. So, the replacement register, known as the Lloyd’s Register of British and Foreign Shipping, first appeared in October 1834.
In relation to the classification of vessels, as of 1837 a sub-committee (of the General Committee) was first appointed (initially only for wooden-hulled sailing craft). Meeting weekly, until 1999, these were overwhelmingly headed by the General Committee’s Deputy Chairman.
In the early days they had no premises of their own, meeting in the boardroom of the General Shipowners’ Society, at 72 Cornhill. It was to be decades before the register became a fixture in Leadenhall Street.
This may have been a good solution to the problems in London, but it did comparatively little for the merchants, shipowners and underwriters in the rest of the United Kingdom. Although the new constitution was framed to be more inclusive, the influence of the ‘outports’ on the register’s committees remained slight. After unsatisfactory negotiations, in the year of 1835 a list named the Liverpool Register of Shipping appeared: the work of this city’s dissident shipping community.
Meanwhile in London, once again through talks conducted by the General Shipowners’ Society, a mechanism of voting more representatives onto Lloyd’s Register Permanent Committee was adopted through time. The east coast ports seem to have benefited from this early, while Liverpool remained out in the cold. Consequently, in 1838 once again a Liverpool Register of Shipping was published. Rather than a pure list, this closely followed the format and classification system of the London based Lloyd’s Register. Part of the Liverpool fraternity’s concerns related to their shipowners buying British North American (Canadian) hulls. Built of softwood, they were cheaper than comparable British vessels but generally considered in London to be of inferior construction. Anyway, this ‘rebellion’ sparked protracted further negotiations and in 1845 the Liverpool and London organisations ‘amalgamated’ (although in reality, the regional entity was subsumed).
There was one more Liverpool based independent register. Again unhappy with the rules emanating from London, in 1862 the Underwriters’ Registry for Iron Vessels was set up. After various changes in L.R.S.’ rules for iron-hulled vessels, protracted negotiations were held with the larger agency. In 1885 this Liverpool publication entered the London fold.
With time, consolidation (through incorporation in 1871) and much expansion Lloyd’s Register became not only a truly representative body for all the various sides of the shipping industry (not just the insurance element) within the United Kingdom, it also built up operations throughout the world. With the massive changes in technology since the beginning of the 19th century, after long-term lobbying shipbuilders and marine engineers were allowed a limited entry (through a sub committee) to the levers of power. It was not until 1911 that these important groups were allowed membership of the agency’s General Committee.
In relation to this changing technology, although initially hesitant to classify iron-hulled vessels, in time rules were produced. The step from iron to steel was less of a challenge, since by this time there was a considerable reservoir of experience (with further research carried out). With shipbuilding becoming far more technically minded, Lloyd’s operatives became highly involved in the testing of equipment (such as marine engines and chain), as well as the materials themselves. As of 1877 a separate Lloyd’s Register of Yachts was produced. Post First World War there was a move into the classification of aircraft.
Lloyd’s Register also gave good service to H.M. Government as and when called on. The Marine Department of the Board of Trade having absolutely no technical knowledge whatsoever, it was this commercial entity that formulated the load-line regulations necessitated by the ‘Plimsoll Agitation’ (as the Board of Trade detractors dubbed this lobbying). During the First World War, even before the standard ship programme of the last phase, L.R.S. had been involved in much war work. And, it was the same in the Second World War.
It should also be noted that another independent classification agency appeared in Britain, in 1890. This was the British Corporation. Glasgow based, it covered steel-hulled vessels. Interestingly, this survived until 1949, when it too disappeared into L.R.S.