The Collcutt building

Art in architecture

The-Collcutt-building02

In December 1901, Lloyd’s Register took possession of its new building at 71 Fenchurch Street, London. Thomas Collcutt used elaborate decoration to achieve complexity and richness in his design, which now contrasts strongly with the modernity of the Richard Rogers building, completed in 2000. 

Lloyd’s Register chooses Fenchurch Street

By the end of the 19th century, Lloyd’s Register had outgrown its premises in London and took the decision to build its own premises to cater for its expanding business. In November 1897, a Building Sub-Committee was appointed under the chairmanship of John Corry (1831-1908). 

James Dixon, a member of the General Committee, offered Lloyd’s Register a 7,700 square-foot site fronting Fenchurch Street for £70,000. This was then an unfashionable area of mixed uses and bleak warehousing. Dixon persevered and the Committee eventually bought the site in February 1898 for £66,518. 

The Building Sub-Committee next chose an architect, Thomas Edward Collcutt FRIBA, from a short list of ten. 

Building the new home of Lloyd’s Register 

With the site and architect secured, the Building Sub-Committee pressed on with planning the new headquarters. Curiously, the Committee’s brief to Collcutt was sketchy with little guidance on office needs. It appears to have been more concerned with making a fine architectural show while keeping a keen eye on finances. Collcutt was told to design a building of grandeur, worthy of the leading classification authority. Initial designs were turned down as too understated, but finally a scheme of appropriate splendour was agreed in October 1898. 

Collcutt’s design was for an impressive classical stone palazzo in the 16th century Italian manner. His specification called for first-class materials both inside and out; Portland stone and carved Hopton Wood stone on the façades; inside, a grand entrance hall, with marble floors and staircase, and oak or mahogany doors, skirting and floors. Artists and the best trade firms were to embellish the building. 

The question of the main building contractor was crucial and Collcutt favoured Mowlems Ltd, who had built the Imperial Institute. The fine quality of Mowlems’ stonework was much admired and they seemed ideal builders for No. 71. Happily, they also tendered the lowest figure for the work at £71,460, which included everything except light fittings and the ceiling painting in the new General Committee Room

Work began on the site in January 1899. Inevitably, with a building of such decorative complexity, the works proceeded more slowly than anticipated and Lloyd’s Register did not take possession until December 16, 1901.

The new Lloyd’s Register building at No. 71 and the subsequent construction of Lloyd’s Avenue marked a change in the fortunes of Fenchurch Street. From a grimy mercantile district, it became a prestigious institutional address. 

For more about the building and Collcutt see the Lloyd's Register Foundation website