A treasure trove of data on ships, deep in an archive facility in Woolwich, London, is now freely available to all following a major digitisation project funded by Lloyd’s Register Foundation. The contents of a treasure trove from 1,133 boxes from ports from Aberdeen to Yokohama are now online, free of charge, on the website of our Heritage and Education Centre (HEC).
Along with valuable data from ship surveys, the collection makes available fascinating photographs, telegrams, certificates and other documents from some of the famous ships of history including the Cutty Sark.
The work of digitising the contents of the Ship Plan and Survey Report Collection has been going on since 2016. It is conserving and cataloguing the collection to make it freely available for everyone, throwing light on the history of ships and shipping as well as the work of the Lloyd’s Register.
The Collection, which dates from the 1830s-1970s, holds over 1.25 million documents and details the design, construction and maintenance of ships classed by Lloyd’s Register. Through survey reports, ship plans and handwritten correspondence, the collection highlights the important role Lloyd’s Register has played in the development of marine safety.
Exploring the contents of the port boxes has uncovered a rich seam of historical documents, never seen since they were stored away. Most contain survey reports conducted by Lloyd’s Register surveyors – with information on a ship’s build, dimensions, owner, classification and voyage. But they are also a rich source of other documents – telegrams, memos, forms, certificates, photographs and ship plans, highlighting the sheer diversity of the collection’s holdings and educational value.
The collection reveals information on some of the most famous ships from history including the Cutty Sark, Mauretania and Dunedin. Some were the first of their kind, including Fullagar (the world’s first fully-welded ocean-going ship) and Bakuin (one of the first modern tankers ever built). The documents held within the archive also throw light on the work and life of a Lloyd’s Register surveyor and their frequent dealings with shipbuilders and shipowners.
For engineers, the documents show how fine details of ship design and build were agreed with owners – the experimental use of high-tensile steel on the Mauretania, for example. The Mauretania, an ocean liner built by Wigham Richardson for the Cunard Line, was the world’s biggest ship at a dynamic time in maritime engineering.
Sean Clemenson, Digital Engagement Manager at the HEC, explained:
“Each document within the Ship Plan and Survey Report Collection acts as a testament to Lloyd’s Register’s commitment to making the world a safer place; even in the face of global recessions, wars and pandemics. By digitising the collection, the Foundation is not only making the collection available on a global scale, but is also preserving the Collection for future generations.
“As we digitise the archive, new finds are emerging all the time. How some of these items made their way into our Ship Plan and Survey Report Collection remains unknown. One such item is this 1920s sales pamphlet advertising the Manfield & Sons Transverse Cycling Shoe. Manufactured in Northampton, the brochure boasts affordable prices for men’s and ladies’ wear that aids cycling and grips the pedal to ‘an astonishing degree.’ Found tucked within a large plan from the Hartlepool office the item appears to have been accidentally packed away. We can only wonder whether the surveyor got himself a pair of Manfield & Sons Transverse Cycling Shoes!”
Currently over 283,000 documents for over 47,000 ships are available to view and download, for free, on the Centre’s website. With a global audience spanning over 190 countries worldwide, the digitised collection is a unique resource that is being used by maritime historians, economists, linguists, ship model enthusiasts and family historians.
The digitised collection reinforces the Centre’s commitment to open access to the Heritage and Education Centre’s resources whilst also enhancing public understanding in marine and engineering science and history.
To view the digitised Ship Plan and Survey Report Collection, visit hec.lrfoundation.org.uk