Following the flame: Cambridge - insuring white elephants
07 Jul 2012
Posted by: Anna Stone
Subjects: Interesting stories
Aviva's presence in Cambridge can be traced back to at least 1796 by which date Norwich General had appointed Richard Stimson as agent.
By the following year Mr Stimson appears to have died and the advertisement above lists his widow, Mrs Elizabeth Stimson, as joint agent with W Stanley who was a builder by trade.
Norwich Union Fire had appointed an agent, E M Smith, by 1806 and Mr Smith kept control of the agency when the company reorganised on the merger with Norwich General in 1821. That company's agent, Mr Stanley, retired and was granted an annuity of £25 pa if he continued to support the business. By 1821 Norwich Union had a fire engine in Cambridge and in 1824 a policy was taken out by local baker and shopkeeper James Apthorpe.
By 1855 West of England was also operating in Cambridge and this receipt was produced for customer George Talbot by the company's Cambridge agent Henry Rance.
The Smith family continued to represent Norwich Union and by 1877 the business was in the hands of Elliot and John Smith who were still running the company's fire engine which was based at Downing Place.
By the mid 1880s a number of other Aviva constituent companies were operating in Cambridge including North British and Mercantile, Employers' Liability, Commercial Union and Ocean Accident. In 1887 Ocean Accident's agent, Arthur Rutter, established his own local company called The Cambridge University and Town Fire Insurance Company. He became local manager for Manchester Fire in 1896 when that company absorbed Cambridge University and Town.
In 1904 Norwich Union Life moved to offices at 30 St Andrew Street, the former Bird Bolt Hotel, on the corner of St Andrew's and Downing Street where they were still residing when this photograph was taken in 1938.
In 1911 C E Dunkin was appointed manager of Union Assurance's new sub branch in Cambridge. He later recalled having to get around his area by rail, bicycle and on foot until he was given the first branch car in 1913.
Under his management the office was made a full branch in 1919 which was also the year Northern opened a Cambridge branch in these offices at 1 Guildhall.
In 1927 General Accident also opened a Cambridge branch, at 22 Market Hill, and in 1935 moved to new offices at 90 Hills Road next door to the famous botanical gardens. By 1938 Ocean Accident was occupying the offices shown below at Lloyds Bank Chambers on Hobson Street. The staff at this point included the future Second World War air ace Donald Kingaby who was the only pilot to be awarded to Distinguished Flying Medal three times.
In 1950 Kingaby's former colleagues were on the move again, this time to these premises at 22 Regent Street.
The first floor rooms faced Parker's Piece and staff could look out on pet peacocks from the grounds of Downing college.
Meanwhile Commercial Union's Cambridge branch was based at 75-77 Regent Street which they shared with subsidiary Union Assurance . It was here, in 1954, that the Union staff had to wrestle with an unusual underwriting dilemma: the owner of a large local store was holding a white elephant sale and came to the company for a quote to cover an elephant for damage and public liability as he intended to walk it up and down the street draped in white with details of the sale.
In 1960 General Accident's Cambridge staff had a similar headache trying to get to the bottom of this claim...
...while 1969 saw Commercial Union receive the following in relation to a fire claim: "frying plan caught fire while going to toilet upstairs!"
Following on from unexpected frying pan activities I'll end with the subject of a Norwich Union public liability policy in 1931. The tame seal in question lived in a pond on his owner's estate but required cover for the regular occasions when, tiring of the water, he would cross the road to the village pub and sleep in front of the fire.