Following the flame: Bristol - winner of 'most photographed' branch?
22 May 2012
Posted by: Anna Stone
Subjects: Interesting stories
Aviva companies have been operating in Bristol for over 200 years. In 1810 Norwich Union Life appointed Frederick Savery as agent and by 1817 his address was All Saints passage, Corn Street.
Norwich Union Fire was also operating in Bristol from at least 1806 when the company's agents were C & J Hackett. In 1818 the agency spent £139 13s 6d on uniforms for its fire brigade which attended fires in Bristol until it was disbanded in 1877.
Our records also include early evidence of the generosity of companies towards their agents. In 1823 Norwich Union Life's agent, Joseph Hellicar of Corn Street, reported that his clerk, D Witmarsh, had died and that his wife and five children were in financial difficulty. The board presented his widow with a gratuity of £40 "in consideration of his long and faithful service".
By 1841 Norwich Union were operating at 56 Corn Street, opposite Council House, on a site they occupied until 1924. The building, by the famous Bristol "nails", was built into the wall of All Saints church and had a private reservoir in the basement.
Another Bristol constituent company, The Crown Accident Insurance, was established at 2 Colston Street in the city in 1887 to carry out accident and guarantee insurance. The policy below for Thomas Lawrence Weiss of Redland was issued in December that year.
Bristol branch offices for Aviva companies appear to have been popular photographic or illustrative subjects. Here is a selection of branches through the years starting with the General Life branch in 1886.
Commercial Union's branch at 21 Clare Street in 1911,...
...Northern Assurance in 1916 on the corner of Small and Corn Streets...
...and Norwich Union at 48 Corn Street in 1929.
As ever, General Accident, are our keenest photographers with this series showing the exterior and interior of their branch at 13 Clare Street in c1932. Note the Royal Arms over the front door showing the company were Royal Warrant holders as motor insurers to the King.
More modern premises were acquired for Commercial Union in 1959 when 150 staff moved into St Nicholas House on the High Street.
Branch manager, Mr Holley, proudly told reporters that the rest room in the typing pool was "almost a miniature bedsitter". The building also included a roof terrace with views across the city.
In 1962 Norwich Union also occupied new premises, at 18-24 High Street, as shown in the artist's impression below...
...and in reality as construction neared completion.
Formal shots of branch staff also exist in the archive such as this of T R Cooper, Yorkshire Insurance branch manager, in 1924.
The Norwich Union staff magazine published this photograph of their Bristol staff in 1929 along with a story about a lady trying to claim for a batch of "spoiled jam" under her household policy.
The photograph below shows General Accident staff in 1914.
At this point the branch was operating at 13 Clare Street and new manager Mr C O Bannister had just been appointed. Known affectionately as "The Governor" he was still managing the branch in 1932 when this photograph was taken. Incidentally, the photograph on his desk is not his wife but the company's general manager, Francis Norie-Miller.
Branch staff had busy social and sporting lives. General Accident had a thriving social club which arranged outings, like the one in 1923 shown below...
As early as 1929 the branch was running a mixed hockey team which played against local sides such as West Harptree and a team of Kleen-e-ze staff. By 1936 they had their own sports ground which was photographed for the staff magazine.
The branch even boasted its own international sportsman in Aubrey W C Simons. Mr Simons played table tennis for England in 1949 and was part of the last England team to win the Table Tennis World Championships in 1953.
Aviva's Bristol alumni include another "famous" person who appears in the photograph below of a Road Transport and General staff outing in 1935.
You may not have spotted him because he came to fame on the radio but Edgar Harrison worked for the company until 1967.
After his retirement, having had bit parts in films and on TV, he had a new career playing Dan Archer in The Archers between 1968 and 1982.
Before we leave Bristol I must share a story which appeared in General Accident's staff magazine in 1954. It concerns the heroic actions of the Keynsham resident secretary, W E Luke, in helping put out a fire at a neighbour's house. On entering the house he alerted the owner and his wife whom he found "with their eyes glued to the television set oblivious of smoke, flames and sparks".
The fire brigade were called and, having dealt with the blaze, one fireman recognised Mr Luke and said it was lucky the house was insured with General Accident. This was greeted with "hearty laughter" because the home owner was actually Bristol manager for rival insurer North British & Mercantile (now also part of Aviva).