The Lutine Bell
The Lutine Bell, weighing 106 pounds and measuring 18 inches in diameter, is synonymous with the name of Lloyd’s. Traditionally it has been rung to herald important announcements – one stroke for bad news and two for good.
The bell was carried on board the French frigate La Lutine (the sprite) which surrendered to the British at Toulon in 1793. Six years later as HMS Lutine and carrying a cargo of gold and silver bullion, she sank off the Dutch coast. The cargo, valued then at around £1 million, was insured by Lloyd’s underwriters who paid the claim in full.
There were numerous salvage attempts and in 1859 the wreck yielded its most important treasure - the ship’s bell. It was hung in Lloyd’s Underwriting Room at the Royal Exchange and was rung when news of overdue ships arrived.
Whenever a vessel became overdue, underwriters would ask a specialist broker to reinsure some of their liability based on the possibility of the ship becoming a total loss. When reliable information became available the ringing of the bell ensured that everyone with an interest in the risk became aware of the news simultaneously. The bell has hung in four successive Underwriting Rooms. In the Royal Exchange 1890s-1928, Leadenhall Street 1928-1958, Lime Street 1958-1986; and in the present Lloyd’s building since 1986.
The bell is no longer rung as the result of a vessel becoming “overdue”. Today, the ringing of the Lutine bell is generally limited to ceremonial occasions, although in rare instances exceptions are made.