While you may have seen the Lloyd’s of London building in the City of London designed by Richard Rogers, do you know about the Collcutt building?
As part of Heritage Open Days, I went to visit the Lloyd’s Register building on Fenchurch Street. Designed by Thomas Collcutt, this late-Victorian office opened in 1901 as a statement building and a sign of prosperity.
The origin of this classification society started with a cup of coffee. As few merchants had their own offices, coffee houses were places to do business in the 18th century. Edward Lloyd’s Coffee House on Lombard Street in the City of London was located in the centre of the maritime business district and attracted those concerned with shipping. It was here that accurate shipping information was shared.
By the early 18th century, explorers such as Captain James Cook had begun to accurately chart the world. (Cook’s legacy of scientific and geographical knowledge influenced his successors well into the 20th century.) And new world knowledge led quickly to the expansion of British trade, which more than doubled in value and volume between 1700 and 1750.
Yet shipping cargo from one end of the world to another was a risky business with sailors, vessels and cargo frequently lost. Merchants and underwriters needed to know which ships were fit to carry their goods across the oceans with minimal risk.
In 1760 The Society for the Registry of Shipping was set up at Lloyd’s Coffee House. The aim was to give merchants and underwriters information about the quality of vessels, classing them according to the condition of the hull and equipment. From 1768, the Society used a1 to indicate a ship of the highest class; from 1775, A1 was used and is now well-used as a symbol of quality.
In 1834, Lloyd’s Register was founded with a mission to protect life and property at sea. It was required to satisfy the need which was then felt by all sectors of the shipping community for a satisfactory and well-ordered system of classification for merchant vessels of all types and of all nationalities.
Two such registers had previously existed in Great Britain: the one established in 1760 and managed by underwriters, and the other established in 1799 and managed by shipowners. Shipowners were dissatisfied with the first and underwriters distrusted the second. Lloyd’s Register was set up as an amalgamation of the two registers so that everyone with a commercial interest in the ships sailing in and out of British ports had access to accurate safety information.
The 19th century brought huge changes, as steam superseded sail and timber gave way to iron and steel, creating ships of unprecedented size.
The ever-increasing size of Britain’s merchant fleet and the demand for more rigorous standards in the construction of iron and steel steamships meant that Lloyd’s Register needed larger premises. It decided to design a new building to cater for its expanding business.
Thomas Edward Collcutt FRIBA (1840-1924) undertook architectural training in London. His time working under George Edmund Street would have influenced him towards the Gothic revival style, and fellow worker Richard Norman Shaw who pioneered the Queen Anne revival style was influential too. Street designed the new Law Courts in the Strand, one of the great architectural achievements of the Gothic revival era.
Collcutt’s great career opportunity came in 1872 when he got to design the public library and museum in Blackburn, Lancashire. Then in 1877, he designed Wakefield Town Hall in West Yorkshire. He went on to win first prize in the competition for the Imperial Institute in South Kensington, London, built in 1887-1891. This is the building that appears to be have been a dress rehearsal for the Lloyd’s Register building as it was clad in Portland stone and had marble-lined interiors. George Frampton and Henry Pegram provided sculpture, and carpenters from Great Dunmow, Essex, made the oak panelling. All of these materials and craftsmen would later be employed at 71 Fenchurch Street. (Collcutt also went on to design the Savoy Hotel and Wigmore Hall.)
Collcutt’s skill for creating opulence was also used by the Peninsular & Oriental Steam Navigation Co. at the end of the century. For about 15 years from 1896, he designed public rooms on a dozen or more P&O liners including the first class music rooms, dining areas and lounges.
Collcutt was appointed to design “a building of grandeur” for Lloyd’s Register and his initial designs were turned down as too understated. His design for an impressive classical stone palazzo in the 16th century Italian manner was agreed upon in late 1898 and work began in January 1899.
Fenchurch Street then had warehouses and businesses associated with the East and West India Docks, from tea dealers to a manure and sewage company. The sale of the site to Lloyd’s Register by General Committee member James Dixon in 1898 instantly upgraded the prestige of the neighbourhood.
The façade is in the Italian Renaissance style and made of the best Portland Whitbed stone (a pale high-quality oolithic limestone). Hoptonwood stone (a limestone from Derbyshire) has been used by George Frampton for the carved tableau on the ground floor that celebrated maritime history. It features classical gods supported by maidens plus the arms of major UK ports. Frampton’s best known work is the bronze of Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens (1912).
The tourelle on the corner of Fenchurch Street and Lloyd’s Avenue is topped by a carrack sailing ship copper gilt weather vane. This was made by Hardman & Co (Birmingham). The company was a favourite choice of Augustus Pugin who designed the interior of the Palace of Westminster and the Elizabeth Tower (Houses of Parliament and Big Ben).
Collcutt worked with the best artists and craftsmen of the day to create a sumptuous interior. He used elaborate decoration to achieve complexity and richness in his designs. The total cost of the building of no. 71, including the land, was about £160,000.
When you enter at the front of the building, the first room on the left is The Library. The mahogany bookcases that line the L-shaped room are inlaid with rosewood and fruitwoods with an art nouveau motif. The mahogany is from West Africa and was seasoned for 100 years.
The Library ceiling is barrel-vaulted and elaborately stencilled by Shrigley and Hunt. The pattern incorporates the coats of arms of the major shipbuilding ports of the time: Belfast, Glasgow, Stockton-on-Tees, Greenock, Liverpool, Newcastle, Hartlepool, Sunderland and London.
The Entrance Hall
Collcutt’s used of multi-coloured marble, referencing 16th-century Italian baroque work, is a special feature of his architecture. The entrance hall has a striking Belgian black and Tuscan white marble floor that sets the scene for the rooms on the first floor. Grey Petitor marble lines the walls, and the pillars are red Ogwell marble. The plinths, skirtings, arches and doorcases are elegantly picked up in black Ashburton marble.
The Genoese Lions at the main entrance doors were a gift from Francisco Schiaffino, Lloyd’s Register’s first surveyor to Genoa, appointed in 1872. The lions are a 19th-century version of a bronze group sculpted in 1651 by Matteo Bonicelli. An enraged client threw one of the lions down the front steps of White Lion Court (the former London office). Luckily Mr Schiaffino paid to replace the smashed one.
Collcutt designed the bronze electroliers (chandeliers with electric lights) as he liked to be involved in every aspect of the design of his buildings. This attention to detail has ensured that even the smallest of fixtures and fittings such as door handles are worth a second look.
The clock above the reception desk is original and was also designed by Collcutt, a horologist by hobby. It is strangely different from the rest of the building in that it appears to follow the art deco style, which did not become fashionable until after World War One. Elaborate Victorian hands reach across a minimalist face without bezel or numerals.
The grey marble lining the walls, staircase and first floor landing, was supplied by the London firm Burke & Co. The floor was supplied by Jenkins & Co. of Torquay. The reception desk is original and made of mahogany, as well as the doors leading off this area.
The stair carpet is a 1947 replica of the original Turkey carpet specified by Collcutt and supplied by Maples & Co.
Over the second flight of stairs is a round stained glass window with emblems of Great Britain: the English rose, the Scottish thistle, the Welsh leek and the Irish shamrock. This stunning window was designed by Gerald Moira who designed similar heraldic glass and painted murals for the Old Bailey in London.
The Spirit of Maritime Commerce
At the top of the stairs is this bronze sculpture by Frank Lynn Jenkins. The head, shoulders and arms of this maiden are crafted in smooth white Carrara marble, and the sweep of her bronze wings is highlighted in mother of pearl. She holds a caduceus (the staff carried by Hermes in Greek mythology, sometimes called the winged staff of Mercury) and the entwined snakes have ruby glass eyes.
There is a matching marble seat on the first floor with bronze bench ends swept up as swirling barge prows.
First Floor Landing
On three sides of the landing, there is a frieze made of electrotyped copper (which makes it look like bronze) with highlights of silver, ivory, mother of pearl and semi-precious stones. It is also by F. Lynn Jenkins and depicts many views of the ‘ladybadge’ goddess with maritime development in the background.
Thomas Collcutt designed the marble floor and Gerald Moira decorated the quadripartite vault ceiling. Moira was professor of Decorative and Mural Painting at the Royal College of Art (1900-22) and the principal of Edinburgh College of Art (1924-31).
The Lloyd’s Register Ladybadge has represented the Society since she was first seen on the cover of the Register Book in 1799.
Much of the design was retained in the badge adopted in 1834 by the reconstituted Lloyd’s Register of British and Foreign Shipping. The nymph became a goddess, holding in her right hand a caduceus symbolising a messenger of the gods. There’s more about her on the Lloyd’s Register Foundation blog.
There is also a plaque on the landing that notes, “This building designed by Thomas Collcutt in the last years of Queen Victoria’s reign has been restored and extended and was formally opened by Her Majesty The Queen on 13 June 1972.”
The General Committee Room
This great classical saloon on the first floor is the architectural climax of Collcutt’s building. The scale and quality of the sumptuous decoration celebrate its status.
Cleverly, when I visited for the Heritage Open Day there was a costumed actor in this room being Thomas Collcutt so we could ask him questions about his design. Imagining it was 1901 and hearing first-hand accounts on his choice of materials and the craftsmen he worked with was a really nice addition to being there.
This ‘wow factor’ room is double height with coupled ionic marble columns alongside the long sides and a barrel-vaulted ceiling. The marble in this room is Belgium black marble, a striking green from Ireland and the Numidian marble for the columns is from Algeria.
Tapestry wall hangings based on the William Morris ‘Damask’ design (the original design is in the V&A) hang between the columns. And below is a decorative marquetry dado made of Cuban mahogany, Spanish mahogany (actually from the West Indies) and Honduran mahogany. The wooden panelled wainscotting is made of English oak from Dunmow in Essex, and English oak beams have been used in the ceiling and flooring.
While there had been a ‘money is no object’ attitude to the building, one of the only costs that was questioned was for the decoration of the ceiling in this room. Gerald Moira reduced his quote from £1,600 down to £1,000 and was given the job. It took 17 months to complete the composition largely inspired by Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel ceiling in the Vatican.
The four central ceiling panels depict the elements: water, fire, air and earth. The rectangular panels alongside these show the symbols of the zodiac. Then moving out to the side lunette panels cut into the barrel vault of the ceiling, between the coupled marble columns, there are celestial bodies, seasons and divisions of the day.
There’s so much more I could tell just about this room from the Cararra marble relief over the fireplace by Bertram Pegram to the delightful William de Morgan tiles on the fireplace. But I’ll highlight the handles on the mahogany entrance doors. The whimsical patinated bronze handles are shaped like dolphins and sea sprites and the escutcheons (decorate plate area) has mermaids and sprites.
Even though Collcutt had begun his career as a furniture designer, he did not design the furniture in this room. Maples & Co. was commissioned to produce the neo-Georgian mahogany furniture that is still in use today.
My visit also took in some exhibits of interesting items from the archives. When this building was designed it includes a basement and sub-basement with a considerable portion devoted to the archives and a museum where heavier articles could be displayed.
I was particularly taken by this plan for the 1910 expansion. The third floor was extended and another floor, to include a rifle range – yes, a shooting club was held on the top floor!
I also discovered the Lloyd’s Register of Ships was classed as a secret document during both World Wars. And this ‘Wreck Book’ for 1942 shows the worst year in terms of merchant shipping loss.
Six additional office blocks were acquired over the years but by the 1990s, the office accommodation was far from ideal for the growing business. Richard Rogers designed the iconic glass and steel Lloyd’s of London building on Lime Street and they moved in by late 2000.