A Brief History of Insurance: Part 7 Lloyds and the London Market

A Brief History of Insurance:

Part seven: A small coffee shop called Lloyd’s

Welcome back to this series which aims to briefly plot the key times and places in the historical journey of insurance, from the earliest Chinese civilisations some seven thousand years ago right through to the modern day. As we discovered in the last article in this series, the seventeenth century was of major importance to the development of insurance.

The tragedy of the Great Fire of London saw the first insurance company The Fire Office appear and soon after a number of competing fire insurers had arrived including Sun Fire Office, which we now know today as RSA – one of the largest insurers in the word.

We also discovered that the era was one of great advancement in the field of mathematics, which led to the emergence of first true development of actuarial systems and relatively sophisticated risk management models.

Of course no history of insurance would be complete without reference to Lloyd’s of London and it was during this same period of innovation within insurance, that Mr. Edward Lloyd opened his first coffee shop in Tower Street, London.

Lloyd's 1743

It needs to be mentioned that the coffee shop of the seventeenth century was a far more important venue within a society than your local Starbucks or Costa Coffee is today. In fact at this time the coffee shop was a relatively new phenomenon in Europe.
Whilst they has been in existence in the Muslim world for much longer, they had only recently appeared within the West.

Originally thought to have been introduced to Europe via the Kingdom of Hungary, the first documented coffee house to open in Europe was in Venice in  1645.

The first English coffee house, The Grande Café, opened in 1650.
Less than a century later there  were 551 coffee houses in London alone.

A fundamental reason for the success and popularity of these coffee shops was that they were great social levellers. They welcomed men from all levels of society and as a result they became synonymous with equality, republicanism and the ideals of a free market.
As such it was almost inevitable that the coffee houses of the late seventeenth century were to become vital hubs in which to discuss politics, the current affairs of the day and of course business.

It was 1688 when Edward Lloyd first opened his own coffee house in Tower Street, London.
Capitalising on the current growth in popularity for coffee houses across the city, Lloyd was able to carve a strong niche  in the city by providing regular and reliable news from the shipping industry.
Soon Lloyd’s of London had a vibrant and faithful community of sailors, merchants and ship owners visiting the coffee house on a daily basis.

It was not long before  Lloyd’s of London had become synonymous with the shipping industry and establishing itself as the key meeting place to discuss business in the shipping world.

In the next article within this series we shall look at how boat insurance and the shipping industry became intrinsically linked and how Lloyd’s of London developed from a humble coffee shop to one of the major organisations in modern insurance.

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