Christmas Carols from the Archive
18 Dec 2017
The countdown to Christmas is well under way so it must be time for another seasonally-themed blog from the archive. In the past I’ve written about insurance men in pantomime (oh yes I have!) and shared images and stories from the archive (somewhat inventively) connected to the Twelve Days of Christmas.
Employers' Liability, Christmas staff magazine cover (1951)
This year I scoured the collection for stories related to Christmas and came up with an interesting selection, including a fire policy taken out by a blacksmith from New Buckenham on Christmas Day, 1797, and the fact that Charles Dickens, author of ‘A Christmas Carol’, applied for life insurance with one of our companies in 1838.
Sun Life, Charles Dickens' proposal declaration (1838)
I thought I’d stick with the Christmas carol theme as a way to present my assorted Christmas facts (and a few less seasonal ones); so here are some stories from the archive grouped by (hopefully) appropriate Christmas carols.
Norwich Union, family indemnity proposal illustration (1898)
'Ding dong merrily on high'
Our best link to high-ringing bells comes from the United Kingdom Provident whose founder and first policyholder, Robert Warner, was the head of the firm of bell founders, John Warner and Sons, which had cast Big Ben and the other bells for the Clock Tower of the Houses of Parliament.
Employers' Liability, extract from staff magazine cover (1955)
'Deck the halls'
Norwich Union didn't stop at decking halls - they decorated entire streets! The photograph below shows St Stephen’s Street in Norwich, 1967, and was proudly reproduced in the staff magazine. According to the accompanying caption, the Christmas lights had been provided by the company’s estates department and were put up by the maintenance team.
St Stephen's Street, Norwich, with Christmas decorations (1967)
Members of staff at Norwich Union were also allowed to decorate their offices and instructions for decorations were even enshrined in the staff handbook for 1974:
The exhibition of Christmas decorations is a matter for departmental administration but it is recommended that decorations should be limited to simple window and table arrangements. - staff handbook (1974)
Employers' Liability, staff magazine extract (1955)
In December 1970, Christmas decorations featured in a claim from a bus company whose vehicle was damaged when a Father Christmas fell from some street decorations. The driver completed the claim form as follows:
I was proceeding along the road in my bus when there was a big bang. When I pulled up at the bus stop I got out and walked across the road and looked on top of the bus and found Father Christmas lying on top of the bus. I stopped a passing policeman and he told me not to move the bus in case he fell on somebody. - claim form (1970)
General Accident, Christmas staff magazine cover (1983)
'Jingle bells, jingle bells'
This is a story about telephone bells rather than sleigh bells, but it did happen in December and was caused by a Christmas display. In December 1928 the London office of one of our companies, United Kingdom Provident, caught fire due to an electrical fault in a Christmas window display featuring rubber ducks. (If you are wondering why an insurance company had a Christmas display featuring rubber ducks then it might help to know that the display belonged to the company’s ground floor tenants, Anderson’s Rubber Company.) When the flames had been extinguished and staff were finally able to return to the building they heard the telephone bell ringing:
Is that the United Kingdom?"
"Do you know you are on fire?
- anonymous (1928)
Scottish Accident, promotional booklet extract (1908)
We do also have a couple of bona fide sleigh references in the archive; the first is Mr Charles Sleigh who was appointed by our company, Northern Assurance, as agent for the village of Strichen in Aberdeenshire in 1918. Our second Mr Sleigh was company secretary for the Ocean Marine Insurance Company, between 1859 and 1861.
General Accident, Christmas magazine cover (1981)
Nearly 100 years later the Ocean's company secretary was a Mr H T Frost which leads me on nicely to…
'In the bleak midwinter'
As well as Mr Frost, the company secretary, we also have these advertisements featuring Jack Frost, which were produced by General Accident in the 1940s.
General Accident, poster (1940s)
General Accident, poster (1940s)
Most of our 'bleak midwinter' stories concern claims paid by our accident companies for slips and falls on ice or snow. A book of claims produced by Railway Passengers Assurance in 1875 included 29 accidents in ice and snow before they even started counting accidents that occurred while their policyholders were ice skating. In 1885 the same company paid a claim for £23 10s to a farmer from Benhall in Suffolk who slipped off the edge of a ditch covered with snow, and in 1901 a farmer from Dersingham received £60 for slipping on some ice.
Ocean Accident, poster (c1923)
Staff working in Norwich Union’s head office, pictured below, in the first half of the 19th century might have been safe from slips and falls but they obviously still suffered from the winter cold. A set of instructions written by Samuel Bignold in 1819 referred to a fine of 3d if any ‘unauthorised’ person tended the office fire, and continued:
Clerks are permitted to warm themselves at the Fire in Office hours, but only one at a time to be at the fire and no Clerk is expected to remain there longer than may be sufficient for warming himself. - Samuel Bignold (1819)
Norwich Union, Bignold House Norwich (c1910)
Over a century later, the successors of those cold Norwich Union staff decided to brighten up the bleak midwinter with a spot of snowballing.
Norwich Union, Surrey House in the snow (1947)
I really love the idea of insurance staff playing in the snow, but sadly it appears that things got a little out of hand, so the following memo was sent around the head office departments:
Snowballing on the office premises, including the car park, is to cease forthwith in view of the personal inconvenience and damage to property which has been caused within the last few days. - staff memo (1956)
Perhaps something like this had happened...
General Accident, USA press advertisement extract (1946)
'Hark the herald angels sing'
From badly behaved clerks we move on to angels, like these featured on Norwich Union’s centenary calendar from 1897.
Norwich Union, centenary calendar (1897)
The rest of our angels are found in the addresses of company buildings, such as Norwich Union's fire engine station at Angel Place in Worcester, photographed below. It was here that the brigade took delivery of their first motorised fire engine in 1905. It was also from here that the engine set out to fight its first fire when, most unfortunately, sparks poured from its chimney destroying the blouse of a lady cyclist and a good portion of hedge. The Worcester brigade registers also report an unspecified number of firemen leaving Angel Place in a motorcycle and side car to reach a fire in record time.
Norwich Union, Worcester fire engine house (n.d.)
Our second angelic address belongs to our oldest company, the Hand-in-Hand. When the society moved from Tom’s Coffee House in 1711 its new offices, pictured below, were at 11 Angel Court, Snow Hill (that is two Christmas links in one address) and the company remained there for the next 80 years.
Hand-in-Hand, Snow Hill offices (n.d.)
'Joy to the world'
The joyful benefits of insurance were often in the minds of our historical colleagues; indeed, this clever leaflet produced by Scottish Accident in 1905 features an agent with his briefcase of good cheer, which opened to reveal an insurance proposal.
Scottish Accident, promotional leaflet (1905)
In 1936 a member of staff at United Kingdom Provident wrote a poem about selling insurance to Santa Claus in which he included the following lines:
Well, I've always been able to talk, sir,
And this was a chance rich and rare,
So I took a deep breath and I started,
And old Santa, he pulled up a chair.
I told him how we chaps, like him, sir,
Aimed only to please other folk
By making them free of all worry,
And his eyes lighted up as I spoke—
- anonymous (1936)
United Kingdom Provident, illustration for Christmas poem (1936)
Similar sentiments were expressed by Norwich Union’s London Manager, Mr Noverre, in an article for the staff magazine of 1891 in which he compared the company to a good fairy: 'A little reflection will teach us that insurance is missionary work with a true ring. Whether its aspect be life, fire, accident, marine, fidelity, employers liability, or the latest phrase - robbery, insurance steps in to relieve loss; whether it be at the death of the breadwinner or on some unlooked for disaster, such relief comes at a time when needs are most pressing, and when help and sympathy are most appreciated... Cannot many of us, from our experience, testify to the ease and peace the bestowal of the sum assured has produced? Has not the anxious face brightened when assured that the loss of their little all, through burn-out, will be restored? It had before seemed almost like a dream that a few shillings could bring about all this. Have not many of us, who have been executors, in looking through the papers of our departed friend, pounced upon a life policy with a sigh of relief? It is his message from the dead'. He continues:
It means provision instead of penury, prosperity instead of pinching. It banishes the bills, so heavy at such a time, and it lifts the mortgage on the property. It does this so lightly and without sense of obligation that one can fancy it done with the wave of a wand, and that the good old Norwich Union is a fairy in disguise. - Charles Edwin Noverre (1891)
Sadly I couldn't find a fairy to illustrate this story but I do have this skating Father Christmas with a fairy's wand.
General Accident, staff magazine cartoon (1973)
'While shepherds watched their flocks'
A number of our companies were busily engaged in watching over sheep from as early as 1849. By 1871 our company, Norfolk Farmers, was insuring sheep (and horses and cattle) worth a combined £2,100,000. Another of our companies, Irish Vehicle Owners’, produced a list of claims paid in 1908 that included compensation for 'several sheep poisoned by misadventure'.
From other companies in the group we get examples of claims for injuries and damage caused by sheep whose shepherds were clearly asleep on the job: such as Railway Passengers Assurance which paid a claim for £100 in 1884 to a farmer from Warrington who was knocked down by a sheep, or General Accident, which paid a motor claim in 1953 for damage caused when a ram attacked his reflection in a newly polished car.
If only I had a picture!
We three kings
Our three kings begin with the King Insurance Company which was established in 1901 and produced a series of postcards, such as below, featuring illustrations of the kings of England and Great Britain.
King Insurance, promotional postcard (c1903)
As well as postcards of ancient kings the archive also contains insurance documents for more recent royal customers: General Accident held a Royal Warrant as motor insurers to King George V in 1911...
General Accident, covering letter for Royal Warrant (1911)
... and provided livestock insurance for King George VI in 1947.
General Accident, livestock proposal for King George VI (1947)
'We wish you a merry Christmas'
In 1914 every member of General Accident’s staff not serving in the forces subscribed to send a packet to each serving member of staff to wish them a merry Christmas. Each packet contained: a wool helmet, a body belt, mitts, sleeping socks, one box of Scottish shortbread, one box of cigarettes and one Christmas greeting from the General Manager.
In the Second World War serving staff from Norwich Union also received a parcel from their colleagues on the home front. This parcel contained cigarettes, fruit and almond cake, plain chocolate, gingernut biscuits and a drum of Turkish delight.
Below is the card which accompanied the Christmas gift.
Norwich Union, Christmas card to serving staff (1939)
We have many other examples of company Christmas cards in the archive, some with suitably snowy scenes...
Norwich Union, Christmas card (1950)
… and others which are less obviously festive, like this example sent out by Norwich Union in 1909 which features the directors sitting at the board table.
Norwich Union, Christmas card (1909)
If this was the standard of season's greeting which could be expected from an insurance company it probably came as a relief to all recipients when one of our companies, Friends Provident, decided to stop sending corporate cards in 1958. The decision was announced as follows in the staff magazine:
After thoughtful consideration it has been decided - somewhat reluctantly - that the practice of sending Christmas cards to our friends should cease. We are not alone in coming to the conclusion that this very pleasant custom has been so much abused in recent years that it is in danger of losing its original purpose of conveying personal seasonal greetings. Our many friends may rest assured that our goodwill is in no way diminished, even though we shall no longer express it in the customary fashion. - staff magazine (1958)
The canteen staff at Norwich Union in 1967 wished their colleagues a merry Christmas with 2,000 servings of Christmas pudding. The ingredients required for this mammoth undertaking are listed below and, as you can see, although this was not a 'figgy pudding' it did involve 60 lbs of raisins and 20 pints of beer...
Norwich Union, Christmas pudding recipe (1967)
... as well as a lot of mixing.
Norwich Union, cooks mixing Christmas puddings (1967)
I think I’ve probably stretched the Christmas carol theme as far as it can go so I’ll leave you with these recordings of Norwich Union’s Orion II mainframe computer playing Christmas carols in 1972.
Norwich Union's Ferranti Orion II computer playing Christmas Carols (1972)
'In the Bleak Midwinter'
'The Holly and the Ivy'
'Once in Royal David's City'
Courtesy of The Centre for Computing History