Victorian London - Finance - Insurance - Maritime - Lloyds - rooms in  

    Certain branches of business, which in many respects are much more extensive than the speculations in stocks and shares, have for a long time past been carried on in certain saloons. In the Exchange building itself there is a broad stair­case, with crowds of busy people ascending and descending, and there is a door with large gold letters, “Lloyd’s Coffee House.” Let us ascend that staircase, and see what sort of a coffee-house this is. We pass through a large hall, from which doors open to several rooms; at each door stands a porter in scarlet livery. In the hall itself are several marble statues and a large marble tablet, which the merchants of London erected to the Times, out of gratitude for the successful labours of that journal in unmasking a gigantic scheme of imposition and fraud, which threatened ruin to the whole trade of London. In the centre of the hall there is a large black board, on which are written the names and destinations of all the ships carrying mails which will sail from English ports on that and the follow­ing day. In the corner to the right there is a door with the inscription, “Captains’ Room.” No one is allowed to enter this room but the commanders of merchant vessels, or those who have business to transact with them. Next to it is the “Commercial Room,” the meeting place of all the foreign merchants who come to London. We prefer entering a saloon on the other side of the hall, the doors of which are continually opening and shutting; it is crowded with the underwriters, that is to say, with capitalists, who do business in the assurance of vessels and their freights. The telegraphic messages of vessels arrived sailed, stranded, or lost, are first brought into this room. Who­ever enters by this door walks, in the first instance, to a large folio volume which lies on a desk of its own. It is Lloyd’s Journal, containing short entries of the latest events in English ports and the sea ports in every other part of the world. It tells the underwriters whether the vessels which they have insured have sailed, whether they have been spoken with, or have reached the port of their destination. Are they over-due?—run a-ground ?—wrecked ?—lost?
    In this room there are always millions at stake. So firmly established is the reputation of this institution, that there is hardly ever a barque sailing from the ports of the Baltic, or the French, Spanish, or Indian seas which is not insured at Lloyd’s. Its branch establishments are in all the commercial ports of the world; but its head-office is in Cornhill, and in the rooms of the Exchange. Before we again descend the stairs, let us for one moment enter the reading-room. Perfect silence; tables, chairs, desks; readers here and there; men of all countries and of all nations; all round the walls, high desks with files of newspapers, whose shape and colour indicate that they have not been printed in Europe; they are, indeed, papers from the other side of the ocean—China, Barbary, Brazilian, Australian, Cape, and Honolulu papers—a collection unrivalled in extent, though less orderly than the collections of the Trieste Lloyd’s and the Hamburg Börsen-halle. It is here that the stranger from the German continent first receives an adequate idea of the enormous extent of commercial journalism. How far different is this reading-­room from anything we see at home? How extensive must be the communications of a nation to which such journals are a necessity! How small does German commerce look in com­parison with this! When we were at school, we were told that commerce was a means of communication between the various parts of the world; that merchants are the messengers of progressive civilisation; and that to be a good merchant a man ought to be well read in geography, history, politics, and a great many other sciences. And then we saw our neighbour, the grocer and tallow-chandler, weighing and making up sugar in paper parcels all the year round. He knew nothing whatever of geography, history, or politics; but for all that, he was a wealthy man and a great person in the town, and everybody said he was the pattern of a good merchant. We could not understand this. At a later period, when we lived in a German metropolis, we saw other great merchants, bankers, and manufacturers. They did not make up paper parcels as the grocer and tallow-chandler did; they were dressed with a certain elegance; they read news­papers, and were fond of discussing the events of the day. But many of them had not the least idea of the politics which they discussed, and on which they founded their speculations; they had forgotten whatever they had learnt of geography, commer­cial topography, and history; and nevertheless they passed as capital men of business and accomplished merchants. Our romantic ideas of the requirements, the influences, and the radiations of the commerce of the world received again a rude shock; but now, suddenly, as accident leads us into Lloyd’s reading-room, the old impressions come back again. Thus, after all, the lessons of our school-days were not untrue! These, then, are the messengers of commerce which promote the exchange of civilisation between the continents and islands of the world. Neither sciences nor religions are powerful enough to found those organs. They owe their existence solely to commerce: possibly they may be means to an end; but it is also an undoubted fact that they exert a vast influence on the peaceful progress of civilisation.

Max Schlesinger, Saunterings in and about London, 1853

The Loss Book of Lloyds, 1890 [ILN Picture Library]

The Loss Book of Lloyds, 1877 [ILN Picture Library]

The Casualties Board, 1890 [ILN Picture Library]

The Underwriting Room, 1890 [ILN Picture Library]

The Great Room, 1890 [ILN Picture Library]

The Reading Room, 1890 [ILN Picture Library]

Doorkeeper at Lloyds, 1890 [ILN Picture Library]

The Commercial Room, 1844 [ILN Picture Library]