In 1911, Jebez Barrett, Head Messenger at '71' retired. He wrote a very interesting account of his 50 years with LR from when he joined as a 14 year old Junior Messenger in 1861.
He had seen the Society go through many changes and had worked with many of the important staff of the time such as Bernard Waymouth and Thomas Chapman.
Looking Backwards Jebez Barrett, Head Messenger
It was on November 1st, 1861 that for the first time accompanied with my father I made my way to White Lion Court, where during an interview with Mr George Bond Seyfang the Secretary to Lloyd's Register I obtained the appointment of junior messenger to commence duty on the following Monday at a salary of 10/- per week, two suits of uniform, two silk hats per year, and an annual allowance of £1 for boots.
I was fourteen years of age, and was leaving a stockbrokers office where I had been junior clerk for exactly two years at a salary of 3/- per week, my pocket allowance being one penny in the shilling. I was educated at a well-known school at Hackney where in consideration of my services as pupil teacher the school fee of 10d a week was remitted.
The fact of my engagement at Lloyd's Register greatly elated my personal feeling and the prospect of associating in my humble capacity with the gentleman of that office was for the time a source of unalloyed pleasure, I could have but one thought and it was that the Staff in an office of such importance would be gentleman of the first ranks from whom I should receive consideration and kindness, and an excellent example.
I therefore entered upon my duties with a light heart and sanguine hopes, and a strong determination to give the utmost satisfaction.
At the date of my engagement the clerical staff consisted of seven gentlemen, one being a junior, and the Secretary, the business of the office being all executed in the three rooms on the first floor.
I will now endeavour accurately to describe the social atmosphere of the office as it revealed itself to me. With the exception of two gentlemen, the chief clerk and one next to him who afterwards became Assistant Secretary, I gradually discovered the associations of the office to be little superior to a bear garden, and in briefly describing the same, with the individuals connected, I will use the names given one to another, sub rosa, omitting certain supplementary and qualifying adjectives which were usually adopted. There was the "family" who was designated the "Cur", the "Bully", "Tim", "Chopper", and the "Young Un", subsequently the number was augmented by the arrival of another member of the "family" designated the little "Dandy". As this portion of my retrospect is as unpalatable as it is true I will dismiss it as briefly as possible. The "Cur" remained many years but was doomed to disappointment; the "Bully" was only saved from prosecution for embezzlement by the casting vote of the Chairman Mr Chapman. "Tim" lingered on for years until to the relief of most he was prematurely pensioned, "Chopper" who had a kind and generous heart came to sorrow much to the regret of all who knew him, the "Junior" enlisted in the Army, and the "Little Dandy" was subsequently relieved of his appointment.
I was very unfortunate in the two superior officers in my own department, one was a very old man who had been a Thames waterman utterly lacking in the milk of human kindness, having on one occasion with over £20 sown up in his jacket turned his starving married daughter away from the door, and the other a man with no calibre whom the chosen few used to soak with alcohol, and then sit him on the table in the surveyor's room to make speeches.
My position as may be surmised was somewhat delicate, and complicated but avoiding all egotism I stuck to my guns, and endeavoured, though very youthful and inexperienced, to discharge my duties though doubtless I sometimes made mistakes.
Under these circumstances it was not long before I had to attend casually on the Committees, and I certainly began to take an intelligent interest in my employment. One instance occurs to my mind, of course I had occasion to go down to the strong room which was in a state of utter confusion, and where books and records lay scattered in all directions on the damp rough stone floor. I felt sufficiently interested to wonder what might be there, and removing a considerable quantity of what then appeared to me to be rubbish, I discovered the Preliminary and two first Minute Books of the Society lying open upon the floor, in one case actually adhering to it, in which position it must have been a considerable time, these books were then placed in the cupboard in the Secretary's room, and I humbly take to myself the credit of being instrumental in preserving the important Committee records intact.
I found in Mr Chapman who introduced me to the Secretary a very austere but true friend. For many years for reasons I could not discover, the Secretary regarded me with considerable disfavour, though I did try to find out the reason, and the remedy, but subsequently he changed entirely towards me, and was most considerate. The Chairman most frequently called in precisely at 10 o-clock, generally an hour before the arrival of the Secretary, to initial the Attendance Book, and I remember the awkwardness and difficulty I experienced when he would ask for gentlemen whose names were not down because they had not arrived, the office hours being at that time from 10 till 5.
The vacancy caused by the enlisting of the "Junior" was filled by the appointment of Mr A G Dryhurst who was introduced by the Chairman, the appointment of this gentleman was the advent of a new era in the social atmosphere of the office, his influence was good and kindly and notwithstanding all the jibes and sneers that were launched at him he preserved his equanimity and self-possession, and through all the many years during which it was my privilege to observe his progress, until he reached the crowning point of Secretary I never knew him to lose his temper or to say an unkind word, he was pre-eminently an example and his memory is filled with fragrance.
Perhaps I may be pardoned for making a reference here to the uniform of the messengers, as it was during the first few years of my service.
The waistcoat was a bright red which at first I thought to be very grand, and conducive to importance, but being called upon to take the Waterside and Westend walks collecting and delivering the Register Books my dignity was grievously offended, for being only a youth and necessarily having to pass through some very select avenues and choice alleys in the neighbourhood of the docks, my red waistcoat was a great attraction to the young ladies of those districts, and was the cause of remarks, pungent and sometimes very embarrassing, on one occasion I was quite surrounded and received many affectionate epithets, so on my return to the office I told the Chairman and asked him if he had any objection to its colour being altered, and he most considerately consented to the alteration as at present, the red waistcoat finally disappearing.
On the sudden decease of Mr Seyfang the Secretary at Newcastle while on Visitation Committee, Mr Waymouth was appointed to fill the vacancy. I trust it will not be presumptuous on my part to record my humble opinion that the great advance the Society has made began with his appointment, and I respectfully venture to say that his strong control and wise measures conduced to the weaving of the immense fabric as at present, establishing the Society in the confidence of the shipping world and making its influence predominate.
Not very long after his appointment the premises were crowded out, and found to be quite inadequate for the business of the office, they were therefore extensively added to by the erection of large rooms over the Merchant Taylors premises and subsequently by the removal of the posting department to Southwark Street. It is fitting that I should here record the narrow escape which the whole building had from destruction by fire.
The premises occupied by Messrs. Silver & Co., almost adjoining, were entirely consumed, the fire which had been smouldering during the night, burst out about 5 o-clock in the morning, and in an incredibly short time burnt out some of our windows, and would have attacked papers and documents but for their hasty removal. The Salvage Corp. behaved nobly and, though the heat in some of the front offices was intense everything that could be removed was placed in safety, some of the fire however fell through an open ventilator at the back of the premises and before it was discovered had consumed a large number of the annual letters which had been prepared by the Yacht department and were waiting for dispatch.
I had the extreme gratification of receiving the thanks of the Committee for my small effort made for the safety of the premises. Shortly after this incident the Committee decided to appropriate the portion of the premises occupied by myself to office purposes, and on this occasion I received a kindness from Mr Waymouth which I shall hold in lasting remembrance. He requested me to state what in my opinion would be adequate compensation for the discontinuance of the privileges I enjoys as resident messenger, which I carefully considered and placed before him, the result was an agreeable surprise, for through his good offices the Committee granted me considerably more than I asked for.
It will perhaps hardly be becoming of me to refer to the rapid growth and extending influence of the Society which took place under the guidance of Mr Waymouth, and which has continued ever since, but perhaps a reference to my appointment as Attendant to the Visitation Committee will not be out of place. It is certainly a privileged opportunity for the acquirement of practical knowledge and an education in itself.
At the outset I had never waited at table, and my travelling experience was almost nil, but as many if not most difficulties can be overcome by determination and perseverance so I acquired the knowledge and experience which brought to me in after years many expressions of unqualified satisfaction. There are just one or two incidents which I think it interesting to record.
On the first occasion of my going to the Central Station Hotel at Newcastle I was most unfortunate in raising the ire of Miss Blagburn the proprietress, for some reason best known to herself she questioned my capability for allotting rooms to several members of the Committee which being my duty I had done at other hotels to the satisfaction of all interested. Upon arrival of Mr Waymouth she complained to him of my wilfulness who after inspecting what to the best of my judgement I had arranged simply but kindly told her not to interfere; that good lady never forgave me.
On another occasion when the Committee went to Saltburn for the first time they put up at the Alexandra hotel, and on going forward as was my practice I found that only a few rooms had been reserved in the hotel, the remaining accommodation was distributed over the village. I was seriously spoken to by Captain Walker and other members as to the nature of the accommodation provided, and also informed that in some cases a lively and restless night was involved. I therefore resolved that this inconvenience should not be repeated if by any means I could prevent.
The following year accommodation was written for and promised at the same hotel, when I arrived to my great dismay I found that the untoward inconvenience of the previous year was to be repeated I therefore determined to find out whether I could not improve upon it. After several inquiries I went to the Zetland and had an interview with the Proprietor and explained to him my requirements and the importance of the party I was attending and eventually obtained at that hotel comfortable accommodation for all, and although the luggage was in the Alexandra I had it removed much to the chagrin of the Manageress who threatened me with terrible consequences, the course I took however caused me the greatest anxiety that I have known in connection with the Visitation Committee, for I had yet to meet the train and inform Mr Chapman and Mr Waymouth that I had acted on my own responsibility contrary to instruction. Nothing was said to me until all were settled in the hotel, when Mr Waymouth called me into the Drawing Room, and to my intense relief Mr Chapman expressed his approval of the course I had taken and forthwith went to Miss Wells at the Alexandra to confirm his approval of my action in the matter. It was at Saltburn that I attended Mr Charles Leathly in his last illness. The Committee left for Newcastle, Mr Leathly left on the same day to go to a friend at Durham, and immediately after arrival sat down and died in the chair.
On one occasion at the Central Station Hotel, Newcastle the table was laid for about twenty and a minute or two previous to my announcing dinner the gasolier in the centre of the room fell from the ceiling on to a beautiful silver set of ornaments placed in the centre of the table, the destruction was terrible, but the dinner was served in another room.
The tours of the Visitation Committee have for many years been simplified and accelerated by a definite programme this was not so in my first experience, for instance when I left London on one occasion I had no idea that the visit would extend as far as Aberdeen when the Committee went from Glasgow to Belfast via Londonderry it was only by a mere accidental inquiry at the hotel where they called for breakfast that I discovered that they were going by an early train to Portrush and Giants Causeway, and on to Belfast by a late train in the evening. It was on this occasion that the only conveyance I could obtain for transferring the luggage from the boat to the railway station which was some considerable distance was a costermonger’s barrow drawn by a three legged donkey the fourth leg being unresponsive. The owner asking in return for services rendered "a sovereign wouldn’t pay me sole” but he being an Irishman and consequently susceptible to argument I made him satisfied with 10/-
On another occasion when the Visitation Committee were going from Aberdeen to Braemar by carriage from Ballater we drew up to allow Her Most Gracious Majesty Queen Victoria to pass, and I was informed by the hotel proprietor at Braemar that Her Majesty had been graciously pleased to enquire who the party were.
At one hotel I had a personal and peculiar experience which I offer for the benefit of any who are superstitious or believe in the supernatural. I had the Committee comfortably located but discovered that the only accommodation reserved for myself was a top room with four bedsteads, three huge cupboards, one small gable window, the room smelling so musty that I concluded it had not been in use for a considerable time. I did not like the room, and had a decidedly unpleasant feeling. There was no gas so I secured a long candle from a neighbouring bedroom in order to have a light all night. I went up as usual about 10.30 took my dress boots off placed them soles downwards by the side of my chair locked my door and got into bed, I suppose I had been to sleep an hour, when I was awakened by a noise which sounded as though my boots had been lifted up and dropped to the floor. I fell asleep again, when for the second time I was awakened by the ewer which was full of water rattling in the wash basin. I felt a little surprised and annoyed but again fell asleep. I suppose that I had been to sleep a half an hour when I was rudely disturbed for the third time with a bang against the wall just over my head as though the wall had been smacked with some flat substance. I slept no more, but getting up I discovered my boots scattered lying on their side, I carefully examined the room and cupboards but things were normal. On going down I subsequently met Mr Lidgett who told me he was summoned home and must give up his room which I appropriated, and after the removal of my things the housekeeper was heard to remark "she didn't at all think Mr Barrett would sleep two nights in the haunted room”.
On the days of the Review of Volunteers at Edinburgh by Her Gracious Majesty Queen Victoria, the Committee travelled in two parties to Dundee, the first party who travelled direct arrived in good time for dinner, the second party who preferred to go via the Trossachs were put into a siding in that neighbourhood to allow special trains carrying the returning volunteers to pass, and remained there several hours arriving at Dundee between two and three in the morning.
The visit of the Committee on the S.S. St Sunniva to the Naval Review on the occasion of Her Late Majesty's Diamond Jubilee is an event long to be remembered, and passes my power of description. One important incident however I remember, that at night when at the commencement of the firework display, the box on deck containing the store being exposed was found to have received some sparks, and some of its contents had ignited, an explosion was immediately expected by those who were cognisant with the state of affairs, but two of the sailors immediately took up the box and dropped it overboard, thus preventing what might have been an unpleasant incident. There was a little fishing done on that occasion, one gentleman fixed his line and took a walk round the deck, on his return he saw that he had got a bite, and drawing his line found that he had caught a "kippered herring".
Referring again to office arrangements I should like to say a word in respect to the catering for the Committee's lunch, it was a matter originally left entirely to the judgement of the Chief Clerk. On Thursdays for the General Committee the fare consisted alternately of roast beef and boiled brisket occasionally oysters and soup when in season. On Friday's the remnant of the joint of the previous day was invariably the only item. On Tuesday's the fare generally consisted of ham or beef sandwiches. For many years sherry was the only alcoholic beverage, in respect of which a somewhat amusing incident took place. One gentleman in particular complained very much of the quality of the wine, and I was consequently instructed to get a new quarter cash into the cellar, the account was duly placed before the Committee, and the gentleman came out of the Committee Room to sample the new sherry. He did not tell me his object, and as I had not tapped the new cask (giving it time to settle) only the old sherry was on the table. I filled a glass which he took and at once declared the wine to be of really, really good quality greatly superior to what had been used, he told me so, and I was so taken aback that I thought it best not to correct the mistake.
Reverting again to my Visitation Committee experience I will just refer to one little difficulty which at times occurred where the hotels were crowded, especially bearing in mind the Committees visit to Rothesay. I had to put, with two or three exceptions, two gentlemen in a room, and the sorting out of partners required considerable tact, many excusable complaints arose out of such an arrangement, one gentleman remarking that he had been awake all night because of the foghorn at the other end of the room.
I trust that I may be excused for my presumption in making a reference to the gentlemen who have occupied the chair during the time it has been my privilege to serve. I have already referred to Mr Chapman, an autocrat, sometimes unapproachable, he was the most dignified gentleman that I ever came into contact with, a dignity that to susceptible temperaments was contagious, and his deportment excelled that of "Mr Surveydrop" because it was perfectly natural.
He used to take a keen and regular interest in my housekeeping book initialling any items which he considered inconsistent with strict economy.
His successor Mr W H Tindall although a very different stamp of gentleman, was a general favourite most affable and kind in his bearing it required no effort of his countenance to smile, he was generous, and just in his ruling, though compared with his predecessor ruled very much by proxy, I never saw him in the least ruffled but once and that was on the occasion of the memorable dinner at Cardiff.
Sir John Glover who succeeded him, also the perfect gentleman was somewhat harsh in his judgement, but possessed a kind heart, very firm, but also considerate.
It was he who in consequence of the dishonesty of the caretaker of the premises gave me 24 hours notice to break up my home at Hackney and return to the City.
As a host at the dinner table he was extremely affable, interesting, and entertaining, full of anecdote. I remember on one occasion he related to the company a story of Mr Young, a late Chairman of the Bench of magistrates at North Shields who reached the top of the ladder from its lowest rung, and was somewhat illiterate. A woman in a starving condition was brought before the Bench charged with stealing potatoes, upon the case being proved, instead of consulting the Clerk of the Court he took the list of penalties, and looking down eventually said "I can see a charge for stealing turnips but none for stealing "taters" the charge is dismissed."
Sir John Glover was succeeded by the greatly respected Mr Jams Dixon who brought about many changes, not antagonistic to the interests of the staff, and all were grieved, when they knew of the fatal disease from which he passed away.
It was a cause of very great pleasure to me when Mr Thomas Lane Devitt became Chairman. My recollection of this gentleman goes back to a time long before I knew anything of Lloyd's Register. Generally on Sundays going to Chapel under my father's wing I used meet Mr Devitt and his father on their way to the Old Gravel Pit Chapel where they attended. I believe he was born at Hackney or in the immediate neighbourhood and upon reference to a very interesting book called "Glimpses of Ancient Hackney" I find the following record
"The first house from Devonshire Road, now the Central Hackney Conservative Club, was for several years the residence of Mr Burder and was subsequently the residence of Mr Devitt founder of the firm of Devitt & Moore, the great Australian Shippers." So that the acceptance of the Chairmanship by Mr Devitt was a matter of unusual interest to me, I owe so much to his kindly influence that I ask permission here to record my sincere gratitude to him under Providence for the "pleasant places" on which my lines have fallen.
In the following allusion to the gentlemen who have occupied the office of Secretary during my term of service I trust that I shall not be guilty of presumption or of overstepping the limitations of proper prudence.
I have served under all the Secretaries of the Society with the exception of Mr Charles Graham, the first. When appointed as already stated Mr Seyfang was Secretary, and in respect to that gentleman I borrow the language (slightly altered) of a well-known writer who described the situation with an accuracy which exceeds my ability.
"The Barnacle family has for some time helped administer the office, considering themselves in a general way as having vested rights in that direction, and took it ill if any other family had much to say in respect to it. As a Barnacle he had his place which was a smug thing enough and as a Barnacle he had of course put his son Barnacle Junior in the office, his brother-in-law to the Superintendence of the posting department, whose step son was appointed his assistant.
Progress was made simply because it was inevitable, but as I have before stated in my humble opinion the real upbuilding of the edifice commenced with the advent of Mr Waymouth.
Both in the office and throughout the shipbuilding world, his powerful influence, and sound judgement was recognised, until he passed away in the Board room, it was he who founded the Yacht Register, which though it had a small beginning has become pre-eminently an important reference in yachting associations. The whole staff are indebted to him for his expenditure of thought and labour in formulating and bringing before the Committee in such a form assured success the Pension Scheme, and while grateful to the Committee for giving their sanction to this scheme which has placed their staff upon a footing of honourable independence, the fact probably is that had it not been for Mr Waymouth the scheme possibly would not exist at the present time. At the time of his decease a Finance Committee was sitting and to my personal knowledge he died advocating the interests of the staff. He rang for me and requested me to bring him a document which he required, I had no sooner closed one Board room door behind me, when a member of the Committee rushed out of the other and hastily called 'Barrett get a doctor Mr Waymouth is ill", but he was then lying lifeless on the floor. Thus passed away one of the greatest men of Lloyd's Register has ever known.
He was succeeded as before stated by Mr Dryhurst who was kind, and genial to all, having won the confidence and esteem, and universal respect of those whose privilege it was to come into contact with him. It was by his suggestion when during a previous illness of Mr Waymouth he acted as Secretary that the Technical Committee was formed.
During his Secretaryship the palatial buildings now owned and occupied by the Society were reared. His quiet and inoffensive method of control always found a hearty response because of the high esteem in which he was held, and the unabated confidence in his judgement. The brief and sudden illness which terminated in his decease was a surprise to many, and as I stood with other mourners by the side of his open grave, I felt that I had lost a true and sincere friend, and that life was poorer for the loss.
The appointment of Mr Andrew Scott to the office of Secretary gave universal satisfaction, or may I be pardoned if I put it in this way; Mr Andrew Scott was made Secretary by the unanimous voice of the whole staff, the appointment being confirmed by the Committee. With respectful deference I bear my testimony that the atmosphere of the office under his control, in gentleness, kindliness, and general goodwill in every department.
Things Ecclesiastical and Parochial
On these matters I have but little to say, but in looking backwards, one or two items come to my memory which perhaps may be interesting, and slightly amusing.
The premises occupied by the Society in White Lion Court stood in two parishes, St Peter upon Cornhill and St Martin Outwich, entitling the occupier to sittings in each church. The latter church occupied the corner of Threadneedle and Bishopsgate streets, the site now occupied by a bank. When the church was demolished all its interests were transferred to St Helens, standing in Great St Helens. St Peters remains as it was erected after the destruction of its predecessor by the fire of London.
Several of the Parish boundary plates were in various parts of the office, one in particular in the Boardroom. The Bounds of the parishes were beaten periodically, and on several occasions especially one the ancient ceremony clashed with the meeting of the Board in the Committee room and was the cause of considerable amusement. The Church and the Parish dignitaries headed by the Vicar and Beadle with a following of about forty charity lads, with very long canes attacked the premises much to the amusement of the Chief Clerk who left his table, and in a very pompous demeanour commenced to remonstrate with the assailants, but it was of no avail.
I watched the process with considerable surprise, and wonderment and saw him gradually receding, as one by one the boundary plates were pointed out, and beaten with much shouting, and to my youthful delight observed him gradually retreat up the stairs protesting all the while, until the Board room door was reached. I thought then the crisis had come but after a parley between the Vicar and himself, and having given an assurance that the bounding mark still remained in its original position a compromise was effected, and instead of beating the plate the outside of the door was beaten most lustily, with the usual shouting much to the amusement of the Committee sitting within.
These visits were subsequently much modified, and on the last occasion the Board room was not visited until after 2 o-clock consequently there was no excitement and inconvenience.
The advent of Lloyd's Register to their new premises in Fenchurch Street was a godsend to the parish of St Katherine Coleman, which for quite a number of years had consisted of a good few dingy offices, and a large area of unoccupied ground, grown over with weeds and grass.
Being a Nonconformist I was not often within the sacred but dingy precincts of the Church. On my first visit the number present including the Curate, Choir, Sunday School, Officers and congregation was eleven, I felt very lonely. On one occasion I was the congregation, and the organist having failed to put in an appearance Mr West the Curate in charge requested me to play, being out of practice I declined, and the good little man (standing about 4 feet 6 inches in his boots) led the harmony, and though I was the only congregation present, the offertory was taken.
On another occasion the day after my second marriage the congregation consisted of myself and wife. The Curate was a good man, and though very small was greatly esteemed and we were intimate friends. Bishop Wilkinson was the Vicar, and (gout permitting) preached once a year leaving the duties of the office and care of the souls of the parish to his Curate who I think received nearly £100 a year, the living being worth about £1,600.
I was informed that at one service when the congregation was absent the peaceful spirit of the sacred edifice did not penetrate the hearts of the choir who were very refractory two of the boys actually following the Curate up the pulpit stairs. The psalmody generally may be described as atrocious, and the organ forcibly reminded me of an Italian with a monkey. But to those residing in the immediate neighbourhood the trees in the churchyard were a great boon, and the resort of many birds each summer that I spent there, two bats used to describe their extraordinary and aimless meanderings over my head while sitting on the roof.
I think I will here respectfully conclude with apologies for the method I have adopted in responding to Mr Mayne's request.