Lloyd's Register Foundation


Barbara Jones - Curator of Maritime History and Heritage

Barbara Jones, Curator of Maritime History and Heritage, has spent most of her career working for Lloyd's Register Foundation. She is currently in midst of an ambitious project to digitize their large collection of survey reports and plans of maritime vessels, estimated to be around 1.25 million documents.

As well as providing an in-depth catalogue of the minute details of shipbuilding since the 19th century, there are some treasures to be found in the stacks, including intricate plans, early photos of damaged vessels, and top-secret Soviet records.


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hello and welcome to the max communications 2020 podcast a series of podcasts where we explore various archives and collections my name is faith williams and i'm joined today by barbara jones curator of maritime history and heritage for the lloyds register foundation hi barbara would you like to introduce yourself and tell us about how you came to work for lloyd's register hello faith and good afternoon to everybody um i joined lloyd's register many years ago and i've spent my working life with lloyd's register and history has always been my passion and particularly maritime history so i feel that i've been very lucky um to work with such a great collection and so many great people who i've met and worked with over the years and i've learned a lot from them and about the unique collection that we have at lloyd's register um our collection is vast it's a unique collection and we have at the moment um in our plans and survey report collection about 4 300 boxes and items which we think totals about 1.2 uh 1.25 million documents that's plans server reports correspondence and all sorts of things and project undaunted which we're working through with max communications is our project to digitize that collection and make it freely available via our website so that other people can do research and work with this collection as well the different people that i've met through my working life have given me a lot of background information on the material that we have and this is really really helping with the queries that come up through project undaunted particularly when trying to identify some obscure items that the team might find and the team's queries are always interesting and help us to learn more about our collection and what it contains so how do you spend an average day because your role must have changed over the years yes it has and there isn't really um an average day to be honest with you and i'm sure many many other people say that as well every day is different and that's what makes the job so interesting um i usually start the day with the intent on maybe continuing on a particular project that i was doing the day before and then something pops up and all of a sudden you've got to you know you've got to go off in a totally different direction to to help whoever it is um that has posed that particular question but more recently i've been doing some research to support our two phd students that we're funding at the university of hull and the virus has meant that their visits to london to work with our collection has been curtailed so i try to support them as much as i can by finding other material that we hold digitally and that i can send through to them or answering odd queries that they have as as best i can with you know the materials that we've got available or sometimes just off the top of my head if it's something that i i already know about um and the work that i'm doing with them has also been helped with a ship research tool that frank cohen of your team has developed for us um which means that i can extract a lot of raw data for them to play with which is great and it means that they can still carry on doing a lot of research while they're stuck at home and i'm hoping that this research tool will we'll be able to use that for other projects too because it's sort of it's quite a powerful beast really and it's something that frank should be uh should be proud of that he's uh he's done that for us so what type of material are you working with in the collection what um what content is there that people are researching um we have the bulk of the collection uh is survey reports and plans but there's also correspondence between the surveyors and head office um there's certificates there's telegrams uh memos odd notes there's all sorts of things there the plans we think there's probably in excess of about 96 000 plans and they can vary in size so they can go from something that's quite small which is about the size of an a3 sheet of paper through to something such as the profile plan of a large passenger liner like something like the queen mary for example which can be more than several feet in length the survey reports and that's where the bulk of the collection lies slightly larger than a3 and for the earliest ones they can be single-sided so when i say the earliest ones they date from the 1830s and as time goes on they become more complex and there's more sheets so going from a single sheet in the 1830s you can have something that's 8 or 12 sides of of a3 for something from the say the 1920s for example just on the the ship's hull and then there'll be another booklet of four sides of um a3 for the ship's machinery so quite a vast raft of information just on each each ship we also have boiler plans and machinery plans the most interesting ones to find are the profile general arrangement or rigging plans of particular ships because that can give you more of an idea of what the ship looked like so that's really nice to find for people as well when they're interested in a particular ship because there might not be an image available for that ship still so those sorts of plans just give them a little idea of what that ship looked like and particularly if it's something that maybe their granddad served on or their great grandmother sailed on it just gives them a little idea of what that ship might have looked like what type of people are wanting to access your collection you've mentioned just their family historians but is there anywhere more prominent that you get people coming from oh we get all sorts of people um coming through and all sorts of organizations so yes we get the family historians uh maritime researchers authors students all of those for whatever reason you know whatever research or project uh they're working on model makers if they want to make a a model of a ship they will come through and obviously they particularly want to find plans on a ship we get enquiries from divers or other agencies who might have found a wreck and either need confirmation that the wreck is what they think it is or might need help to try and identify that wreck for example they might um if they're very lucky and haven't found the ship's belt they might have found the builder's plate which is placed there by the the ship builder and that gives a certain amount of information that can help us to help them identify that particular wreck um all those other projects that come through which are sort of one-offs but um very very interesting so over many many months going through this year and it sort of started last year really i've been helping with a project in chile where they've been looking at some of the wrecks that they have in their waters and also on their coastline and a lot of these are composite clipper ships which were built about 150 years or so ago so they've been interested in plans and survey reports which helps them with the structure of the of the ship and also in one particular instance they've been looking at seven wrecks um and so our survey reports for those particular wrecks help them to identify which wreck was what and sort of confirm their feelings as to as to the identify of those particular ships um we're building up quite a tranche of of information uh through this cataloging project um so there's there's more information that we're going to be adding to the website which is going to to help more and more people and in particular our rec report series when that goes up because that covers the period 1892 to the 1940s and that's going to be a real treasure trove when it's available because it has very detailed information on rex and also includes some really nice things like newspaper reports for example there's newspaper clippings within that archive and also some some photographs we also help government agencies because there's a lot of old wrecks around the world which are becoming unstable and so in some cases unfortunately they're starting to leak oil and so those agencies come to us because they need access to plans if we have them to help them to identify where that oil may be coming from on that particular wreck so of course we try to help them as best we can as well so lots of practical applications for the archive family oh yes yes absolutely and what are your hopes for the future of this digitalization project then are you wanting to um target any particular demographic or or anything like that um we're just hoping that everyone will will use it you know as i mentioned earlier it's freely available to all um so we're hoping that more and more people will discover it and more and more organizations as well it would be nice if we could work with more institutions and organizations who either have research projects or have a collection of their own that they're working with and an example of that is we've been working with the royal commission on ancient and historical monuments of wales with regard to welsh shipwrecks um so it would be great to to work with many more people um you know whatever their project might be or even individuals you know who are who are doing their own little pet research project or or just doing their family history you know they're all welcome so the load register was founded in 1760. do you have documents going back to that period or a bit later um our documentation going back to 1760 is actually around the register of ships or the register book as people tend to call it which was first published in 1764 and has been published almost continuously not quite continuously there's a few years when it wasn't in the early years um since that date so from 1764 to 1833 that's really our collection unfortunately although the surveyors that were the working for uh lloyd's registered during that period would have submitted letters to the committee of lloyds register uh giving the details of their survey and their opinion of the class the inspection of the vessel they haven't survived um so it's not until 1833 that we have the provisional general committee minutes for lloyd's register so they start from 1833 and go forward and as far as the survey reports are concerned they start from 1834 and that's the collection which um forms project undaunted and our work with that digitization project and within our archive we have many many other items as well and we think of that as the the corporate archive that's held in in fenchurch street so for the present isn't part of this particular uh digitization project but i'm hoping that maybe further down the line more of that material will be digitized as well um so just an example as well as the general committee minutes we have other uh committee minutes as well which people tend to think committee minutes can be quite dull and interesting but uh one particular trance that we have which is the visitation committee proves that that's far far from the case the visitation committee used to be the chairman and a few of the senior board members that would visit a number of the ports um and ship builders each year so they they would particularly go to a particular area like the north east coast or the the north part of wales or whatever it might be and they would visit the offices and they would visit our people and they would visit the shipbuilders and clients in that particular area and it was to make sure that the clients and the shipbuilders were happy with the work that was being done for them to make sure the surveyors were doing you know a good job um and also the accounting and things like that were were being looked after properly um that the surveyor were was obeying the rules um with regard to the inspection of the ships so all sorts of bits and pieces but there's sort of all sorts of little side stories that come out of that like you know maybe the ship builder rather than surveyor wasn't doing a particularly good job so that would be recorded in those minutes so they are quite a rich source of of information which hopefully you know more and more people as time goes on we'll be able to use get a bit of gothic from the workshop floor yes exactly what is your most favorite item from the archive of the 1.25 million items oh that changes on a daily basis faith there's lots of um famous ships in the collection so some people tend to you know to think about the queen mary or you know those sorts of things but i prefer the unusual um so the the max communications team are absolutely brilliant at finding really interesting and unusual items and they share those with us so there's some really odd things that come out of those boxes sometimes so um there's things that we didn't expect to find so i certainly didn't expect to find quite so many photographs as as we're seeing so those are brilliant to see um and quite often there of a ship that's had grounding damage is in dry dock or it's a wreck or something like that so a surveyor sent it through to augment his his report um but there's also some publicity items around ship launches so brochures you know and things like that the actual shipbuilder had produced um we've also seen odd things that a surveyor might have lost amongst the reports so a railway timetable from the early 1900s sort of surfaced from one of the boxes and it wasn't for that surveyor's particular area so he must have been planning a trip or a holiday or something along those lines um there was also an advert for the patented transverse cycling shoe quite an odd thing to um for the surveyor to have been looking at but anyway this little brochure um and i think it was from the same surveyor that had lost the railway timetable so something tells me that he was a bit careless with his papers that that particular chap there's also been things that help us learn more about our history things that we might have known a little bit about but not very much um and the team earlier this summer they i mean they didn't just make my day or my week it was my month because they sent through some photographs of a shipyard specification book that had turned up um and it was for ship a ship building to lloyd's register class in russia in the late 1920s now i knew that lloyd's register had been involved in this particular project it was all very very secret um the first i knew about it was when i was talking to the daughter of one of the surveyors that had been sent there the surveyors were there for four years um and worked on something like 28 ships um but there was very very little in our archive on this project and when we were working on our history book which was published in 2010 i couldn't even find a full list of all of those ships that they'd worked on so when this popped up in my inbox back in june i think it was i was sort of you know leaping up and down because of what they'd found um but there are other things as well and i love artwork um and i find real joy in in the art if you like a beautiful letterhead or a drawing sometimes that a surveyor might have done on the side of his report just to to illustrate you know something some point that he's trying to to get across but i have got a personal favorite this week and it's a profile plan for a ship called camino that was built in 1912 and she was built by craig shipbuilding of long beach california and later became the city of wilmington and it's actually my own team that have brought this particular one to my attention because they've written an article for the lloyd's register horizons magazine and that's where i saw it when i was reading the article through um and this plan is an absolute joy and i'm sure that the the chap that drew it must have been a ship portrait painter in his spare time because he's put so much detail into this plan it's a very simple thing he's just been doing his work basically as a draftsman in the shipyard but he's put the sea in so you've got waves um he's put the smoke coming out of the funnel of the ship he's drawn the stars and stripes because of course she was under the american flag and you can even count the stars in the stars and stripes um and he's got the signal flags flying as well which many ship portrait artists do which is why i'm sort of wondering if if that was part of his his passion and he signed it sorry he hasn't signed it he's put his monogram on it so it's got ah 1912. so what i'm really hoping is that one day a descendant of ah sees that because they can be justly proud of what their great-grandfather or great-great-grandfather produced and it would be a lovely lovely thing if that was your great great grandfather to see that i think is that available for people to see on your website um at the moment it's available through the horizons article which is downloadable from the lloyds register website um if people go to the heck website the heck dot lrfoundation.org dot uk website and put in camino that was the the name of the ship at one point i should say um under documents and do a search there then they'll they'll be able to see it that way as well fantastic well how how long is it going to take for you to get all your archive up on online do you have a projected time frame i know it's a bit difficult at the moment but have you got a hope it is a bit difficult at the moment um we're just sort of two-thirds of the way through the project so we've still got a good long time yet to go through next year um so far on the website there's about a quarter of a million items and something like 46 000 ships i think there's far more than that sitting waiting in the wings on famous goodness there's probably it's got to be around about a million items sitting there at the moment that the max communications team are working through so uh our team and the max communications team are plugging away and trying to put up well a goodly number each month month or month uh to bring that to the the public i think um i think the last upload was something like 40 000 items and there'll be a similar amount at the end of of this month going up as well so so everyone's plugging away to keep checking the website every month and there'll be more more research more more uh plans to the cat and if anyone has an ancestor with the hh moniker check out their artistry potentially yes wouldn't it be lovely if someone came you know came to us or came to you and sort of said ah i think i know who that is that would be fantastic and truly someone who takes pride in their work as well yeah yeah thank you for a good speech yesterday barbara it's been really interesting here about all the things that you have in your archive that will soon be available for us all to have a look at it's been lovely to talk to you faith yeah take care thank you thank you bye bye bye