VII. Lloyd’s List
THERE is no evidence to show that for the greater part of the eighteenth century, Lloyd’s coffee-house was anything else but a free meeting-place for merchants and underwriters, they assembling at their choice, without being bound together-by any rules, or acting under any organization. The picture of the coffee-house as given, in rough outline, in two papers published in Steele’s “Tatler” and Addison’s “Spectator” during the years 1710 and 1711 remained true, probably, for a generation and longer. The description in the “Tatler” exhibits the coffee-house as a place for auctions, such as were enumerated in a preceding chapter. Sir Richard Steele, writing “from my own apartment” on Christmas-day, 1710, in the “Tatler,” No. 268, informs his readers that “coming home last night, I found upon my table the following petition, or project, sent me from Lloyd’s coffee-house, in the city, with a present of port-wine, which had been bought at a late auction in that place.” He then gives the pretended petition, addressed to “Isaac Bickerstaff, Esq., censor of Great Britain,” from “Lloyd’s Coffee-house, Lombard Street,” which, though chiefly an attack upon stump orators, furnishes also some curious glimpses of the doings of the visitors meeting at the establishment of Mr. Edward Lloyd.
“We, the customers of this coffee-house,” the petition runs, “observing that you have taken into your consideration the great mischiefs daily done in this city by coffee-house orators, do humbly beg leave to represent to you that this coffeehouse, being provided with a pulpit for the benefit of such auctions that are frequently made in this place, it is our custom, upon the first coming-in of the news, to order a youth, who officiates as the Kidney [waiter] of the coffeehouse, to get into the pulpit and read every paper with a loud and distinct voice, while the whole audience are sipping their respective liquors. We do, therefore, Sir, humbly propose that there be a pulpit erected within every coffee-house of this city and the adjacent parts.” So much for the coffee-house in Lombard Street and its “pulpit,” which, it would seem, was a speciality of Lloyd’s. The editor of the “Tatler” finishes by saying, “I do heartily concur with my ingenious friends of the above-mentioned coffee-house in these their proposals,” adding his recommendation that “until such time as the aforesaid pulpits can be erected, every orator do place himself within the bar.”
The paper in Addison’s “Spectator,” No. 46, dated April 23, 1711, referring to Lloyd’s Coffee-house, adds a few interesting touches to the general description of the place and its “pulpit,” by Sir Richard Steele. Addison begins by saying that he is in the habit of noting down and carrying about with him a “whole sheetful of hints,” being “speculations in the first principles, that, like the world in its chaos, are void of all light, distinction, and order.” The writer then goes on:—“About a week since there happened to me a very odd accident, by reason of one of these my papers of minutes, which I had accidentally dropped at Lloyd’s coffee-house, where the auctions are usually kept. Before I missed it, there were a cluster of people who had found it, and were diverting themselves with it at one end of the coffee-house. It had raised so much laughter among them before I had observed what they were about, that I had not the courage to own it. The boy of the coffee-house, when they had done with it, carried it about in his hand, asking everybody if they had dropped a written paper; but nobody challenging it, he was ordered by those merry gentlemen who had before perused it to get into the auction-pulpit, and read it to the whole room, that if anyone would own it they might. The boy accordingly mounted the pulpit” After giving the contents of his “sheetful of hints,” truly, as he calls it, “a rhapsody of nonsense,” the writer goes on with his sketch of the visitors at Lloyd’s. “The reading of this paper,” he says, “made the whole coffeehouse very merry: some of them concluded it was written by a madman, and others by somebody that had been taking notes out of the ‘Spectator.’ One who had the appearance of a very substantial citizen, told us, with several political winks and nods, that he wished there was no more in the paper than what was expressed in it; that for his part he looked upon the dromedary, the gridiron, and the barber’s pole, to signify something more than was usually meant by those words; and that he thought the coffee-man could not do better than to carry the paper to one of the secretaries of state. He further added that he did not like the name of the outlandish man with the golden clock in his stockings. A young Oxford scholar, who chanced to be with his uncle at the coffee-house, discovered to us who this Pactolus was, and by that means turned the whole scheme of this worthy citizen into ridicule. While they were making their several conjectures upon this innocent paper, I reached out my arm to the boy who was coming out of the pulpit to give it me, which he did accordingly. This drew the eyes of the whole company upon me; but after having cast a cursory glance over it, and shook my head twice or thrice at the reading of it, I twisted it into a kind of match, and lighted my pipe with it. My profound silence, together with the steadiness of my countenance, and the gravity of my behaviour during this whole transaction, raised a very loud laugh on all sides of me; but as I had escaped all suspicion of being the author, I was very well satisfied, and applying myself to my pipe and the ‘Postman,’ took no further notice of anything that passed about me.”
The “auction-pulpit” at Lloyd’s had grown, as shown in a preceding chapter, greatly into requisition in the sale of ships, and of goods brought by sea, at the time Steele and Addison wrote their letters, and the business thus established continued to extend thenceforth from year to year, judging by numerous advertisements in the papers of the period. Still this alone would have scarcely led to the success and fame which Lloyd’s Coffee-house was destined to achieve, and it required the concurrence of other means to accomplish it. The principal of these means was the establishment of “Lloyd’s List.” It took place in 1726, which year must form an epoch in the history of Lloyd’s, as being the visible starting-point of the great institution bound-up indissolubly with “Lloyd’s List,” and the system it represents of collecting and distributing news relating to ships and shipping.
There are unfortunately not now, as far as extensive searches have been able to show, any copies of the earlier numbers of “Lloyd’s List” in existence, and in their absence and that of other documentary evidence, its origin can only be conjectured. It appears highly probable that “Lloyd’s List” was started by Mr. Edward Lloyd, for not only do the oldest numbers now to be found bear in size and outward appearance the greatest resemblance to the “Lloyd’s News” of 1696-97; but even the type and general arrangement of matter are the same as that of the previous paper launched by the able and energetic “coffee-man,” but which found an untimely end after the publication of seventy-six numbers. “Lloyd’s News,” as before stated, was published thrice weekly, on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays; and, as if to make the venture less considerable, and decrease the risk of renewed failure, “Lloyd’s List” was issued at the outset only on the first of these days, the Tuesday. It was not long before it was found that this was insufficient to satisfy the appetite for information of the frequenters of the coffee-house, and thereupon the publication was made bi-weekly, the “List” appearing on Tuesdays and Fridays.
The best, and indeed only, collection of copies of “Lloyd’s List” at present to be found, is in the library of Lloyd’s in the Royal Exchange, the earliest volumes representing a valuable gift, made a few years ago by the ancient rival, and now friend and neighbour of Lloyd’s, the London Assurance Corporation. The oldest volume in this collection begins with 1740, in which year Edward Lloyd was no more, as shown by a paragraph in the “Gentleman’s Magazine” for March, 1740. “Mr. Baker, Master of Lloyd’s Coffee-house in Lombard Street,” it is stated, under date March 11, “waited on Sir Robert Walpole, with the news of Admiral Vernon’s taking Portobello. This was the first announcement received thereof, and proving true, Sir Robert was pleased to order him a handsome present.” The little notice proves that already at this time the underwriters were possessed of an intelligence department of their own, far superior to that of the government, the latter being dependent now, as long after, upon news “posted at Lloyd’s.”
In the long row of leather-encased folios, bearing the impress of fire as well as great age—the former obtained in the great conflagration that destroyed the Royal Exchange —the first number of the oldest volume is marked 560, and dated Friday, January 2, 1740. At the head of this, and of all the succeeding numbers, for many years, there stands prominently on the front page, immediately after the date, the following note:—
“This List, which was formerly publish’d once a Week, will now continue to be publish’d every Tuesday and Friday, with the Addition of the Stocks, Course of Exchange &c.—Subscriptions are taken in at Three Shillings per Quarter, at the Bar of Lloyd’s Coffee-House in Lombard-Street.”
“Such Gentlemen as are willing to encourage this Undertaking shall have them carefully deliver’d according to their Directions.”