Following the flame: Belfast - home of 'Mr Ireland 1966'
06 Jun 2012
Posted by: Anna Stone
Subjects: Interesting stories
Aviva's earliest recorded Belfast agent was Thomas Ward who was representing Norwich Union Life from offices on the High Street by 1818.
By 1831 he had moved to 2 Bridge Street and by 1843, when he was also agent for Norwich Union Life, he was at 26 Bridge Street and his occupation was listed as "importer of gunpowder". The policy below was taken out through his agency by Ann Adair of Belfast in 1828.
The Ward family had a long association with Norwich Union. By 1967 James Thomas Ward had taken over the agency and he was appointed manager for the company when they established a branch in offices at Linen Hall.
By the time J T Ward retired in 1914 his family had represented Norwich Union for nearly a century! During the same period nearly thirty companies which are now part of Aviva had established agencies or branches in Belfast. These included many of our smaller and less well-known constituents such as the Guarantee Society which was operating there by 1881 and insured the staff of Belfast Post Office. The Society commissioned Norwich Union's agent to assess the risk and the archive contains a detailed list of the Post Office staff and their duties.
Companies specialising in accident insurance were also operating in Belfast: Accidental Death had an agency by 1866 and Lancashire and Yorkshire Accident were represented by William B Munce in 1892.
Palatine Insurance also had a Belfast agency in 1892 as did Hibernian Plate Glass - the company with my favourite headed notepaper!
A decade later Ocean Accident and Guarantee produced this advertisement in a Belfast theatre programme.
Another accident insurer, Scottish Accident, was also doing business in Belfast by 1887 when it paid £10 compensation to a commercial traveller from the city whose hand was stung by a jelly fish. Belfast also featured heavily in the company's 1904 booklet of “Claims paid in Ireland” with my favourites being the broker who caught his thumb while closing a door and the commercial traveller injured while watching another accident from the top of an electric tram.
Among our constituents we also have companies which were founded in Belfast, Ulster Marine and Commercial of Ireland, both of which were acquired by the Yorkshire. Ulster Marine had been established in 1867 by local marine agents Sinclair and Boyd.
By 1918, when it was acquired by the Yorkshire, the company was based at 93 Ann Street and the manager was William D Keldie whose photograph appears below.
The other Belfast company, Commercial of Ireland, had only been established three years when it was acquired by Yorkshire in 1922. As part of the purchasing process the company were required to provide plans of their offices on Donegall Square South...
...and details of their staff.
The manager, John E Kelly, retained his position after the takeover and wrote in 1923 "in spite of all my difficulties I shall do my utmost to make this little Irish company a bright emerald jewel in the Yorkshire crown."
The Yorkshire itself had had a branch in Belfast since at least 1908 at 36 Rosemary Street but the honour of being our first major company with a Belfast branch goes to Northern Assurance who were operating at 42 Waring Street by 1857.
Other group companies quickly followed suit with Commercial Union appointing Mr McCausland district agent in 1864 and North British and Mercantile running an office at 67 High Street under Joseph Lowery by 1876. By 1892 Employers Liability had opened a Belfast branch and the photograph below shows their offices at 4 Donegall Square North, known as “Singer's corner”, in 1907.
In 1894 General Accident began operating from 2 Richmond Square under resident secretary Mr T Reid. After a brief spell in Manor Street the company moved to 14 Wellington Place in 1898.
In 1932 they moved again to 4 Howard Street where manager John L Bouick, below, was appointed in 1934.
By 1936 the branch boasted the only “Lady Chief Clerk” in the corporation. Her name was Miss Lyster and she had worked for the company since 1904. As a pioneer woman in the insurance world she is likely to have been made of sterner stuff than this “lady clerk” at Commercial Union's Belfast office, drawn by a colleague when the office had 'a mouse problem' in 1952.
Howard Street appears to have been a popular home for insurers in the 1930s with Scottish Union moving to No 52 in 1931 and Northern occupying No 32, the interior of which is shown below, in 1937.
General Accident left Howard Street in 1959 for new premises at Donegall Square South the same year that their manager, R J Armour, retired after 50 years with the company. He must have been a well-liked superior because his staff secretly arranged for the tribute below to be put into the staff magazine for him in 1955.
In 1962 Norwich Union also moved to new premises, at 7 Fountain Street...
...and in 1965 Commercial Union brought staff from their 13 companies operating in Belfast together under one roof at 21/27 Chichester Street. Their stay at Chichester Street was brief and in 1970 the company moved again to a new six-storey block in the centre of the business district at 1-3 Donegall Square South.
Not to be outdone General Accident moved to another new six-storey block built on their Donegall Square South site in 1986.
The building, shown below in the architect's impression in 1981, took several years to come to fruition during which time staff moved to 5 Linen Hall Street.
By now you may be wondering about the reference to Mr Ireland 1966 so take a look below at Joe Hatty who, when he wasn't being Mr Ireland, was a mild mannered insurance inspector in General Accident's Belfast branch.
Incidentally, Aviva in Belfast has a true Olympic connection as Harold Cahill of Commercial Union's branch was a member of Great Britain's hockey team for the Mexico Olympics of 1968.