From Coffee to Insurance!

Lloyd’s Coffee House, on Tower Street was a significant meeting place in London in the 17th and 18th centuries.

The City at this time consisted of two worlds: ships and money.  Both converged in a tiny area between the Tower of London and Thames Street, close to the Navy Office in Seething Lane, where Samuel Pepys had worked.

Coffee became fashionable to drink after the restoration in 1660, with each coffee house having a specialist interest and where people attending that coffee shop would discuss that interest, like: trade unionism, politics, shipping and banking.  By 1800, there were 3000 coffee houses in London.

Blue plaque on Lombard Street.

Lloyd’s Coffee House was opened by Edward Lloyd (1648–1713) in 1686 and quickly became a popular place for sailors, merchants and shipowners to meet and talk about maritime insurance, shipbroking and trade.  What made his coffee shop stand out is that Lloyd understood the vast importance of information to business.  He went out of his way to supply it, publishing a regular sheet of intelligence on ships, cargo and foreign events, and establishing a network of correspondents in ports across Europe.

Edward Lloyd.

The coffee shop relocated to 16 Lombard Street in December 1691.  Lloyd had a pulpit installed in the new premises, from which maritime auction prices and shipping news were announced.  From 1697–1698 Lloyd also experimented with publishing a newspaper, Lloyd’s News, reporting on shipping schedules and insurance agreements reached in the coffee house.

Lloyd by now hosted regular candle auctions, a pulse-racing business where bidding on ships’ cargoes began when a stub of candle was lit; the successful bid was the last before the candle guttered.  Lots included ‘a parcel of Turkish coffee’ and ’53 hogshead of extraordinary neat Red French wines’.

The dealing that took place led to the establishment of the insurance market Lloyd’s of London, Lloyd’s Register and several related shipping and insurance businesses.

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