Final steps in the dance
22 Nov 2013
Posted by: Anna Stone
Subjects: Policies and Polkas
The death of Charles Noverre in 1920 effectively saw the end of family links which were over 120 years old, but I can't finish this series of blogs without reference to two further family members to whom fleeting references appear in the company records. The senior of these is Richard Percival Noverre, known as Percy, the younger brother of Charles. I first came across him when I saw his name directly below that of his sibling in this beautifully illuminated book presented to their colleague George Clark in 1905.
The page of signatures, like the staff lists in yesterday's blog, shows the Noverres were not the only family to have links to the fire and life societies over generations or through siblings. The frequency of family sequences on the staff is also referred to in staff reminiscences; Geoffrey Hart, writing in 1938, cited a series of family groups who were on the staff when he joined the company in 1893 " Grinlings, father and two sons, Harry and John; the Ourys, again father and two sons Charles and Harry; the Blazebys, father and son Willie; the Malletts, father and son George; and five sets of brothers in the Corsbies, Louis and Ernest; the Dranes, Jecks and Harry; the Gissings "Trosh" and Robert; the Halls, Frank and George and the Stratfords, Lawson and Bertie."
The lack of comprehensive staff records means I can't say precisely when Percy began to work for Norwich Union. According to the census records he was working as a dancing master, alongside his elder brother Frank W B Noverre, in 1891 but by 1901 he gave his occupation in the census as insurance clerk. The earliest reference I have been able to find to his employment for the society dates to 1902 when he applied to join the Staff Superannuation and Benefit Fund which had been employed by his brother Charles in his quest for treatment for his writers' palsy.
As you can see, his request was denied and I suspect that this was something to do with his age for the change from dancing master to insurance clerk came very late in life when he was around 50 years old. What caused the change of career and how influential his brother and his long family connections were in securing his position are just two more tantalisingly unanswered questions. Fortunately, more reminiscences by Geoffrey Hart in the staff magazine do, at least, shed some light on the role Percy carved for himself at the society.
The photograph below, also from the staff magazine, shows Percy with the 'ladies' whose honour he defended so well.
Sadly, his retirement in 1918 when he would have been about 69 years old occurred during the time when the First World War had temporarily stopped production of the staff magazine. As a result we have no retirement notice to add to our details on Percy. The brief reference to his death in the magazine in 1921 also contains few further clues about the life and career of the last of the dancing Noverres.
The final man in our Noverre dynasty was Francis Gray Noverre the only son of Charles and his wife Laura. References to his brief employment, at the Fleet Street branch under his father, are limited. I managed to find him listed, as Noverre (new clerk), in a board minute relating to staff salaries in 1895...
... and the staff magazine announced his departure two years later.
The 1911 census records him living in Hove and gives his occupation as 'insurance official' but I can find no record of his employment by Norwich Union after he left Fleet Street. Two years later on the 11 December 1913 he was admitted into Holloway Sanatorium where he died on 28 December 1943.
It seems a shame to leave my investigations into the Noverre family on such a sad note but I suppose it is the final feature of archival research that the historical facts rarely fit neatly into the plans we have for them and that we can't change what happened in the past to suit the view of history we want to project.
I hope you have enjoyed getting to know the Noverres as much as I have enjoyed exploring our archive in search of them and being given the opportunity to show off some of the wonderful series of records we hold.
Throughout my research I've had this verse, from A psalm of Life by Longfellow, in my head:
"Lives of great men all remind us,
We can make our lives sublime
And, departing leave behind us
Footprints in the sands of time;".
It has felt for me as though I've been looking in the records for footprints left behind by the Noverres. Sometimes the footprints are very faint and there are large gaps where you think the trail has ended. There are always unanswered questions and records you want to consult that have not survived. Despite, or perhaps because of, this the feeling you get when you find another piece in the puzzle or actually touch things that the subjects of your research have touched is one of the great joys of working with an archive collection.
I think the key message of the Explore Your Archive campaign is that this is not a feeling that we should keep to ourselves - archives can be accessed by everyone, and anyone who wants to can feel the thrill of discovery.