Online Exhibitions & Stories

The Lloyd's Register Origin Story

Scene from an eighteenth century coffeehouse


How often do you say to someone 'fancy a coffee' as code for a catch up? Or hear 'I can't function without a cup of coffee'? On my walk from the station to the office I pass at least 10 different coffee shops, always full first thing in the morning and throughout the day. You can see people catching up with colleagues, clients, friends or family. Those that are seeking inspiration or who simply want to get their coffee as quickly as possible as they dash to the office. And of course those who aren't there for the coffee at all. This is not a new phenomenon as coffeehouses were a familiar and popular site in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. And we at Lloyd’s Register have the simple cup of coffee, and a gathering of like-minded men, to thank for our existence.

Liverpool painting of Coffee House
You have all Manner of News there: You have a good Fire, which you may sit by as long as you please: You have a Dish of Coffee; you meet your Friends for the Transaction of Business, and all for a Penny, if you don't care to spend more 
Maximilien Misson
The Vertue of the COFFEE Drink, Pasqua Rosee 1652

The Vertue of the COFFEE Drink, Pasqua Rosee 1652

A handbill written by Pasqua Rosee on the benefits of drinking coffee. 

He notes that 'It [coffee] will prevent Drowsiness, and make one fit for Busines, if one have occasion to Watch, and therefore you are not to drink of it after Supper, unless you intend to be watchful, for it will hinder sleep for 3 or 4 hours'

A coffeehouse scene, 1763

Coffeehouses, a history

In the fifteenth century, coffee became a popular drink in the middle east, spreading throughout the Ottoman Empire. Coffeehouses were established in Mecca and Istanbul as places to drink coffee, have conversations and play board games. Europeans visiting the Ottoman Empire would report back about this drink that was a ‘black liquid’ that acted like a stimulus. In England and Europe coffee was originally seen as a medicinal plant that could ‘cure’ melancholy, gout, smallpox and excessive drunkenness (which many of us probably still use as a ‘cure’...)

In the mid-seventeenth century, coffee was no longer being just seen as a medicinal drink, but one of enjoyment and socialisation. Oxford became the first city in England to establish a coffeehouse in 1652. The Queen’s Lane Coffee House followed in 1654 and claims to be the oldest continually serving coffeehouse in Europe. These coffeehouses were known as ‘penny universities’ because they offered a more informal method of learning.

Soon these coffee houses moved to London. Pasqua Rosee, the Greek servant of a merchant, opened the first near Cornhill. The popularity of the coffeehouse grew and soon more opened up around London. They were cheap and became places for lively debate, conversation, politics, philosophy and business. However, due to the nature of coffeehouses allowing for debate, it was feared by the authorities that ideas of revolution, treason and dissent would manifest themselves. Charles II attempted to ban coffeehouses but, due to public outcry and a lack of support from his ministers, the legislation was never passed.

The origins of several great institutions owe their existence to coffee houses including the London Stock Exchange, Sotheby’s, Christies, Lloyd’s of London and, of course, Lloyd’s Register.

Charles II by John Michael Wright 1660s
The great resort of Idle and disaffected persons to them, have produced very evil and dangerous effects; as well for that many Tradesmen and others, do therein mis-spend much of their time, which might and probably would otherwise by imployed in and about their Lawful Callings and Affairs
A PROCLAMATION FOR THE Suppression of Coffee-Houses, Charles II, 1675
Edward Lloyd's signature

Edward Lloyd

Edward Lloyd was in his early 30s when he arrived in London around 1680. Within eight years, Lloyd opened his first Coffee House on Tower Street. One of the earliest references to Lloyd’s Coffee House was in August 1689 in the London Gazette.

In 1691, Lloyd moved his Coffee House to 16 Lombard Street where it began to achieve a reputation as the centre of those interested in and involved with shipping. Lloyd cemented his Coffee House as a hub for maritime people by ensuring that he collected as much shipping news as possible to distribute to his clientele. Lloyd continued to be entrepreneurial and began issuing a newspaper, Lloyd’s News, to report on shipping intelligence and news. The paper lasted for a year, but he was still able to provide news to his patrons.

Lloyd’s Coffee House continued to prosper and Lloyd himself became a respected member of the local community. He was an active member of the City parish, becoming a churchwarden. In 1710 and 1711 he was nominated as a Common Councilman for the City Corporation. He was unsuccessful on both occasions but, to be nominated, was a significant achievement.

In 1713, with his health in decline, Lloyd made a will, assigning the lease of the Coffee House to his head waiter, William Newton. Lloyd’s daughter Handy, married Newton, meaning that the Coffee House would stay in his family for longer. However, tragedy struck the Lloyd family. In February 1713, Lloyd died and was followed by Newton the following year. Handy remarried Samuel Sheppard but she died in 1720. This meant that the Coffee House left the immediate Lloyd family, passing to Thomas and Elizabeth Jemson (Handy’s brother-in-law and sister-in-law).

Scene from Lloyd's Coffee House
Audio file

Early reference to Lloyd's Coffee House, London Gazette 1689

James Gordon, esq at Lloyd's Coffee House in London

James Gordon, esq at Lloyd's Coffee House in London

Businessmen tended to not have offices in eighteenth century London. Instead, they used the coffeehouses and had their post delivered there too! 

Ships list of May & June 1778

Ship lists of May & June 1778

This list of ships was delayed in reaching its final destination, Lloyd's Coffee House, as it had been 'intercepted by an American Privateer carried into Gibraltar from whence was forwarded'.

Video file

Lloyd's Coffee House

This film was made in the 1960s, bringing Lloyd's Coffee House to life. 

Play video
A1 in Register Book

Safety first!

The concept of ‘safety’ feels like a very modern idea. We have all sat through a safety briefing at work or told we can’t do something because ‘safety first!’ Many lament back to the days when there was apparently no safety. Yet, 260 years ago, a group of men sat in a coffeehouse were entirely concerned with safety, more specifically the safety of their ships. The eighteenth-century saw new trade routes being established and ships sailing further than they ever had before. With this, there was an increase in the number of ships lost and casualties at sea. Merchants, shipowners and others were concerned with the amount of cargo and men being lost. Why not check ships before they sail to see if they were seaworthy and safe? So, in 1760, the Society for the Registry of Shipping was established. A ship’s condition was recorded and given a classification based on its hull and equipment. It seems like a simple idea now. If we were to get on a ship, boat, yacht or dinghy we would like to know that it was safe but in 1760 this was a new concept!

Page from the 1764 Register Book

The 1764 Register Book

To record the conditions of maritme vessels, a register book was created. The earliest surviving of these is from 1764. 

For each ship, information was recorded on their name, ports of origin and destination, master, owner, tonnage, guns, place and year of build and the all important classification.

In the 1764 Register Book, there were 4,118 ships listed, the first being called Albemarle and the most popular name being Nancy

Over the years, the Register Book has changed but is still the heart of the work of Lloyd's Register. 

Plaque for Edward Lloyd's Coffee House located on Lombard Street

Decline of Coffeehouses

In 1768, members of the Lloyd's Registry of Shipping moved from the Coffee House into new premises at No 4 Sun Court, Cornhill. Lloyd's of London also moved out in the 1770s to new offices at the Royal Exchange. This matched a wider trend of businesses purchasing offices and premises to conduct business rather than use the coffeehouses. Lloyd’s Coffee House ceased operation in 1785. The building soon became neglected and, during the fire at the Royal Exchange in 1838, was seen as the place where the fire originated. Today, Lloyd's Coffee House is a Sainsbury's local (still selling coffee...). It's location is marked with a blue plaque on the wall.

The original Royal Exchange in an engraving by Wenceslaus Hollar
Audio file

Fire at the Royal Exchange, Queen Victoria's Journal, 22 January 1838

Mrs G A Campbell presenting a model of Lloyd's Coffee House

Lloyd's Coffee House by Mrs G A Campbell

2020 marks 260 years since the creation of Lloyd's Register at Edward Lloyd's Coffee House. 

Though Lloyd's Register and the Lloyd's Register Foundation (formed in 2012) have gone on to work around the world, we have never forgotten our origins in Edward Lloyd's Coffee House. 

 In the 1960s, Mrs G A Campbell, a member of the Lloyd's Register Arts Guild, presented the Society with a beautiful model of Lloyd's Coffee House. As the Coffee House no longer exists, it gives us a fantastic opportunity to visualise how it might have looked.

The model sits proudly in the Heritage & Education Centre as a reminder of the Lloyd's Register origin story. 

Jonathan Swift by Charles Jervas 1710
The best Maxim I know in this life is, to drink your Coffee when you can, and when you cannot, to be easy without it.
Jonathan Swift