It started with a cup of coffee
To turn back to 1760 is to realise just how much the world has changed since Lloyd’s Register was founded. At that time the sailing ship was the only reliable and speedy form of transport and the steam engine’s full potential was only just being developed. Industrialisation of the western world had not yet accelerated to encourage the wide-spread exploitation of natural resources such as oil and gas, and the nuclear and jet ages were not even envisaged.
World's first classification society
The Society for the Registry of Shipping was set up in 1760 by customers of Edward Lloyd’s Coffee House in Lombard Street, London. The aim was to give merchants and underwriters recorded information on the quality of their vessels. The Register Book listed vessels rated, or classed, after the condition of their hulls and equipment had been surveyed. The subscriptions generated by the Register Book paid for the surveyors to carry out the work. This was the true beginning of classification and the Society was the world’s first classification society.
Classification was and continues to be all about quality. Put simply, it is an assessment against defined standards of the condition of a ship either under construction or already in existence. From 1768 the Society used a1 to indicate a ship of the highest class. From 1775 A1 was used and is now famous as a symbol of quality.
Disputes over the Society’s classification system from 1799 to 1833 led to the establishment of a second register and brought both parties to the verge of bankruptcy. Happily agreement was reached in 1834 when they united to form Lloyd’s Register of British and Foreign Shipping, establishing a General Committee and charitable values.
The 19th century brought huge changes, as steam superseded sail and timber gave way to iron and steel, creating ships of unprecedented size. Lloyd’s Register met these challenges, formulating guidelines based on practical experience.
The organisation rapidly earned widespread respect, giving evidence to government committees and receiving requests to appoint surveyors abroad. The first surveyor employed outside the UK appears to have been appointed in 1812 when the Shipowners' Register engaged a surveyor in Newfoundland. The same Register went on to employ surveyors in Le Havre (1826), Antwerp and Ostend (1829), and Port Louis in Mauritius (1832), of whom we know only the name of the latter, Alex Gordon. These were probably all non-exclusive arrangements.
When the reconstituted Lloyd's Register of British and Foreign Shipping came into being in 1834, the General Committee rejected persistent overseas requests for the appointment of surveyors abroad, preferring to wait until the Society's network of outports in the UK had been properly established. The Quebec Board of Trade in particular made repeated requests for a surveyor due to the number of ships being built on behalf of British owners or for sale once they reached British ports. As a result, in 1852 the Society sent out Thomas Menzies as the resident exclusive surveyor for Quebec and the St Lawrence River. Menzies and his assistant, Charles Coker, did much to help local shipbuilders raise standards of construction. It was Menzies' idea in 1853 to use the Maltese Cross in the Register Book and on the classification certificates to denote a ship built under special survey.
Further appointments were made in continental Europe in the 1860s including at Antwerp (1866) and Rotterdam (1868). Louis Meyer, the Antwerp surveyor, seems to have been the first person appointed with responsibility for an entire country when he was promoted to cover Belgium in 1869. Once a special sub-committee had been set up to consider establishing more overseas surveyors, there was a flurry of appointments. The first was the transfer of Joseph Tucker as exclusive surveyor to Shangai in 1869. Other appointments included non-exclusive surveyors for Calcutta, Hong Kong, Melbourne Sydney and Hobart.
By the early 1880s almost half of the world’s shipping was classed by Lloyd’s Register. In 1914, with an increasingly international outlook, it was entirely appropriate that the organisation’s name was changed simply to Lloyd’s Register of Shipping. From 1916 the organisation started to establish many national and area committees to promote better understanding of local conditions.
Inspection of materials and fabrication was an intrinsic part of the classification process and by the early 1800s surveyors were applying their skills onshore. For many years these land-based inspections were related to ships and the soundness and safety of their construction, from the testing of anchors and cables to the quality of iron and steel. As vessels became more sophisticated, so opportunities arose for the Society to extend its inspection role to other non-marine areas, beginning with refrigerated cold stores for the Port of London Authority in 1911.
With its base in one of the world's leading manufacturing nations, the expertise and reputation of Lloyd's Register became attractive to many organisations overseas eager to have assurance on the quality of goods being produced in and shipped from the UK. The Society's international network also led to invitations from foreign governments, businesses and organisations to carry out inspections. The First World War brought further opportunities to demonstrate the effectiveness of inspection as means to provide an assurance of quality, from shell steel made for the French, to copper pipes and other products made for shipping in the USA. By 1934 surveyors were inspecting ten million cubic feet of cold storage, not just in the UK but in places such as Antwerp and Basle, Leopoldville and Matadi in the Congo, and Singapore.
Lloyd’s Register retained its place as the leading classification society throughout the inter-war years, thanks in part to its significant overseas operations. It also sowed the seeds of an important future part of the organisation’s work in the transportation and energy sectors. Long-standing clients with interests beyond shipping began to employ Lloyd's Register in new fields, most notably the oil industry.All this activity expanded considerably after 1945, eventually leading to the formation of a separate division for non-marine work, providing a new focus for yet more growth.
During the Second World War the demands of war accelerated the pace of change in shipping and industry and Lloyd’s Register helped validate many of the innovations. Reconstruction work following the war allowed Lloyd’s Register to gradually revive its activities overseas. The mid-1950s saw a long boom in shipping with many new challenges as shipping and shipbuilding influence shifted towards the east. Lloyd’s Register saw remarkable growth of its non-marine operations. The organisation provided consultancy and inspection services to atomic energy plants including the UK’s Calder Hall, which in 1956 became the world’s first nuclear power station to generate electricity on an industrial scale.
In the decades following 1960, Lloyd’s Register facilitated change as the shipping boom continued. Ships became ever larger and containerisation changed the world by revolutionising the flow of goods. The oil crisis of the early 1970s led to a deep depression in shipping, but Lloyd’s Register rode the storm through its involvement with the expanding energy industry and offshore business, led by the pioneering development for extraction of oil and gas under the North Sea.
There followed another difficult period as shipping scarcely grew in terms of tonnage until 1990. At the same time the offshore industry suffered from a collapse in oil prices. Nevertheless, Lloyd’s Register strengthened its position in Asia, diversified its offshore operations around the world and consolidated its position as the leading classification society for passenger ships and liquefied natural gas (LNG) carriers. One of the most striking developments was the success of Lloyd’s Register Quality Assurance (LRQA), a management systems business established in 1985.
A consultancy-based rail business was first considered in the early 1990s and Lloyd's Register Rail was formed in 1996. Real growth began only a decade later as governments around the world invested massive sums in major rail projects from the Netherlands to Dubai and Taiwan. In 2015, LR sold its rail business to Ricardo plc, recognising that it was better placed to provide the strategic focus on the rail sector needed to build a world class global rail business.
On 2 July 2012, Lloyd's Register converted its status from an industrial and provident society to a company limited by shares, called Lloyd's Register Group Limited. The shares in Lloyd's Register Group Limited are owned by a parent, Lloyd's Register Foundation, a registered charity. Find out more about the Foundation at www.lrfoundation.org.uk
In 2013 we changed our logo, taking inspiration from the LR stamp – the true ‘brand’ that our surveyors have stamped into steel as proof of approval since 1884. Our identity reflects our heritage and our continued commitment to independence, technical excellence and public benefit. The organisation continues to grow and serve client needs, remaining competitive in a rapidly changing world.