Following the flame: Bournemouth - We won't make a drama out of a crisis
13 Jul 2012
Posted by: Anna Stone
Subjects: Interesting stories
Slater's Trade Directory for 1850 describes 'Bourne Mouth' as a "beautiful retreat and watering place" with "two first class hotels and a reading room." At this date there was only one insurance agent serving the population of 691 and he was not representing a company which later became part of Aviva. Our earliest known agency was that of T J Hankinson who was acting for Norwich Union Fire by 1875.
Also by this date Yorkshire had an agent, W C Lacey, based at Vernon Villas. Within 20 years Palatine was operating in Bournemouth and issued this policy to local "poulterers assistant" Henry White.
In 1913 Norwich Union's agents, Messrs Hankinson, allowed space in their offices for a local representative, Mr W D LeGood. By 1914 Mr LeGood was operating from Richmond Gardens and he was appointed first Bournemouth branch manager in 1920.
By this date General Accident was also operating in Bournemouth. In 1921 a local inspector, W A Sutton, was appointed and he ran the office from his home at 16 Newstead Road. By 1927 the company was at 22 Old Christchurch Road having had brief stays at 13 Yelverton Street and 140 Old Christchurch Road. 1927 was also the year Norwich Union opened its new premises at 39 Poole Hill.
Staff moved into the building in December that year and the staff magazine described the public office as a "large, lofty and exceedingly handsome room, the walls being panelled with dark mahogany, lined with marble above." Overall the new premises, which were purchased from the Bournemouth Gas and Water Company for £10,500, gave an "impression of dignity worthy of the status of the society". Sadly no photographs of the interior survive in the archive but the photograph below shows the staff who worked there.
By this date Commercial Union and North British and Mercantile were also operating in Bournemouth at 80 and 81 Old Christchurch Road respectively. 1935 saw General Accident's staff move into these new offices at 15 Christchurch Road.
Mr Sutton, who was manager, was responsible for booking hotel accommodation for the general manager when he came to visit the branch in 1946. The hotel he chose was evidently pretty pricey (£4 4s per night for two people) as the response from head office was: "charge is extortionate but we must resign ourselves to the fact that inflation is upon is."
Sutton was also at the helm when the staff magazine reported that Bournemouth inspector, Keith Craddick, had made a musical box in the shape of a house from 2,000 matches! Mr Sutton retired in 1960 after just under 40 years in charge of General Accident's business in Bournemouth. His successor, P F Given-Wilson, oversaw the move, in 1968, to 6 Dean Park Crescent. The lovely staff recruitment advertisement below gives the branch at that address in 1973,
... as does this press advertisement from 1981.
I'll end with the story of Commercial Union's Bournemouth staff living up to that company's "We won't make a drama out of a crisis" advertising slogan.
In May 1980 the local manager, Tom Robins, was woken at 4.30am to be told that the branch building had been gutted by fire. Having surveyed the damage and returned home to telephone the staff he set about establishing a base to continue business. Without the benefit of today's business continuity plans he arranged rooms in a local solicitors office and rang the Southampton branch manager Mr Beeson who drove over with a spare typewriter, stationery and petty cash.
By lunchtime arrangements had been made for desks to be sent from Southampton and two telephones had been installed in the temporary office with the company's existing numbers. Service to customers was resumed the same day and by the following day all the 10,000 branch record cards which had been destroyed had been replaced by the company's document centre at Whyteleafe.
I've tried to find a suitable place to include this photograph of Norwich Union's Bournemouth branch with its new neon sign in 1951 but I can't, so here it is just because I like it.