Reviewed by Mark Lardas
In 1760, the Register Society was formed in Lloyd’s Coffee House. That organization is today’s Lloyd’s Register, one of the world’s most influential classification societies. To celebrate 250 years of existence, Lloyd’s Registry published an official history of the organization, Lloyd’s Register: 250 Years of Service, by Nigel Watson.
The book is a fascinating peek at the world’s oldest classification organization. The Register Society published its first register of ships in 1764. That list contained 4118 ships. It still publishes the registry today, but it goes far beyond simply listing ships. It provides classification services for a wide range of products including energy generation systems and non-maritime transportation systems. It also provides engineering and management services, and develops standards. Indeed, as this book shows, maritime-related activities account for only half of Lloyd’s Register’s business.
Lloyd’s Register: 250 Years of Service explores all aspects of this institution. While it recounts its Lloyd’s Register’s maritime activities, it also includes sections on its activities in registering or examining everything from atomic power plants to zeppelins and its offices in countries ranging from Argentina to Vietnam.
The book is an official history, with the strengths and weaknesses that implies. The author and editors had access to a vast reservoir of information that is unavailable to outsiders. The numerous illustrations and odd anecdotes that fill the book provide evidence of the breadth of material from which details were drawn. The volume of illustrations, most from Lloyd’s Register archives, with many in color, is a real strength of the book.
This insider perspective provides fascinating reading at time, including accounts of Lloyd’s Register personnel escaping from war zones or caricatures of life at Lloyds drawn by employees. At other times, it gets a bit much of “inside baseball” (or rather “inside cricket”) as evidenced by a section devoted to various sporting activities of Lloyd’s personnel.
Additionally, there is a sense of spin placed on events to put Lloyd’s Register in the best possible light. Errors or conflicts that occurred over the life of Lloyd’s Register are presented as learning opportunities rather than missteps. This includes the period from 1799 through 1834 when the Register split into two rival factions.
Readers with an interest in maritime history may feel that the book pays too little attention to Lloyd’s activities in ship classification and registration and that it slights the history of the Register prior to 1914. The first 150 years of its existence takes up around one-quarter of the book. Yet within the limitations of 400 pages this is perhaps inevitable. The organization’s activities mushroomed after World War I, and even briefly covering all is a challenge. Yet Lloyd’s Register: 250 Years of Service is a useful introduction to a fascinating entity.
Mark Lardas is an author and a frequent contributor to Naval History Book Reviews.