We are Eloisa Rodrigues and Sarah Parsons – the two new Archives Assistants who will be auditing and cataloguing documents for the pilot digitisation project at Lloyd’s Register. We both started working with the collection this August, getting to know the labyrinthine ways of the storage space at the Brass Foundry and starting to work our way through the Ships Annals collection of documents.
Before starting exploring our collection at the Brass Foundry, I spent the first two weeks at Lloyd’s Register’s offices on 71 Fenchurch Street. Part of our collection is also stored in here and I began my journey auditing the documents based in our main building. This was a very interesting and pleasant start. Going through the collection store here gave me a good insight of what would be awaiting me down at the Brass Foundry. One thing I realised from the start was that working here would be an adventure; time travelling through survey reports, ships plans, letters and other documents that can go as far back as the 1760s. Lloyd’s Registers’ reports on ships, and all the documentation involved in classing ships, are an incredible source of historic information. Apart from that, the geographic scope of these documents also takes us to all parts of the world, bringing into question topics of world trade, politics and economy. In this regard, my second task – now at the Brass Foundry – was to audit a collection of documents from 1834 onwards from Lloyd’s Register’s foreign ports.
On top of all the discoveries through the collection, we have also been enjoying ourselves working in and exploring both buildings where our archives are stored, the one on Fenchurch Street designed by Thomas Edward Collcutt (1840-1924) built 1901, and of course at the Brass Foundry in Woolwich Arsenal. On my first day at Lloyd’s Register I was taken on a tour through the old building on Fenchurch Street. Charlotte Atkinson, the Digitisation Project Manager and Archives Assistant, kindly showed me around telling me the history of this place and pointing out every decorative detail of the building – and, believe me, there are many! One of the rooms that I liked the most is the Old Library. I have always been fond of the 19th century revivalism in art, and this room has it all. For instance, the barrel-vaulted shaped ceiling decorated with the coats of arms of the major shipbuilding ports of the time (namely Belfast, Glasgow, Stockton-on-Tees, Greenock, Liverpool, Newcastle, Hartlepool, Sunderland and London) is a Gothic revival designed by Shrigley & Hunt. Another part of the ceiling is beautifully decorated with “fish and ships”. It is a fantastic room and very well preserved. The room is generally only open for guided tours and is otherwise kept locked to prevent LR employees sneaking in for a meeting in these stunning surroundings! However, we are taking part in London’s Open House weekend on the 19th September 2015 where you can wander around this and other rooms from the turn of the century. There is no need to book the visit, just show up and we will be more than happy to take you on a tour!
As well as working at Fenchurch Street, Eloisa and I are lucky enough to be working at the beautiful Brass Foundry in Woolwich Arsenal, surrounded by shipping and military history and contemporary ships travelling the River Thames today.
My first days have involved audit work and learning about the collection that I will soon be cataloguing. I have encountered the mass of books that comprise the collection of Lloyd’s Register of Ships, been introduced to the ‘Staff Bibles’ (books documenting members of staff from the early days of the company’s history), and have been counting and handling ship survey reports, ship plans and correspondence relating to the classification of shipping.
Exploring the wealth of documents in the ship and wreck reports has been fascinating. Over the years surveyors have been sent out all over the world to classify ships for Lloyd’s Register with the aim of enhancing the safety of life and property at sea, on land and in the air. Down at the Brass Foundry are the boxes containing ship documents from each port, from Aberdeen to Manila to New York to Rio de Janeiro.
Surveyors filled out forms detailing the ship’s name, owner, master, port of registry, tonnage and technical details. They drew plans of the ships – often very detailed and even artistic plans – and wrote recommendation letters back to Lloyd’s Register.
It has been wonderful seeing the surveyors’ personalities in their documents; different surveyors have sketched out water surrounding plans of a ship or added fletching to arrows used to point out various items on plans. The care they have taken shows a real pride in their work.
The beauty of the handwriting has also been lovely to see. Each example is the product of an era when elegant handwriting was taught in school and expected of professionals creating written documents. It is a view into a very different life compared to the increasingly digitised world we live in today. Somewhat ironically, our digitisation of these examples from bygone eras will enable you – as readers, researchers or visitors – to see into this older world, the foreign country of our past.