Following the flame: Cardiff - 'Y Ddraig Goch a Ddyry Gychwyn'
25 May 2012
Posted by: Anna Stone
Subjects: Interesting stories
The phrase above was used on the stationary of our Cardiff based constituent company, Welsh Insurance Corporation, which also featured Y Draig Goch himself.
The company was established in 1909 and an office was acquired at 28 High Street above Mr James Howell's Ironmongers shop. The new corporation joined a thriving insurance community; by 1891 at least 16 companies which are now part of Aviva were operating in Cardiff.
As ever, our oldest known agency belonged to Norwich Union whose life agent in 1818 was S Partridge junior. Our earliest known Cardiff branch belonged to Great Britain Mutual Life. By 1878 this company was operating at 74 Crockherbtown under manager James A Yorke.
In the 1880s Railway Passengers Assurance was also operating in Cardiff and paid £36 compensation to a local ship's chandler who slipped on an orange peel.
By the following decade North British & Mercantile had a branch at Imperial Buildings St Mary Street and by 1898 General Accident was operating from Quay Street Chambers under resident secretary F S Harbridge.
Cardiff branch managers are well represented in the archive, see below a photograph of W Harold Parsons manager of General Accident in 1931...
...and Stanley James Gillingham Cardiff branch secretary for Northern Assurance, in 1925.
The manager of Yorkshire Insurance, L L Pugh, was photographed in 1924 for the company centenary...
... his staff celebrated the event with a trip to the British Empire Exhibition. The photographs below show General Accident's Cardiff staff on an outing in the late 1920s.
I love this one which features J Irvine, R Pollard and S Miller looking as though they have stepped off the set of "Bugsy Malone".
In addition to social events, branch staff formed numerous sports teams competing in local leagues. General Accident's football team for 1935 is shown below...
...and this cartoon from 1958 shows their successors.
The archive contains no records of results for these teams but we do know that Commercial Union's Cardiff branch boasted a junior Welsh Swimming champion on its staff. In 1955 the staff magazine proudly recorded the selection of Miss Judith Lines, a 100 yard back stroke specialist, for the Commonwealth and Empire Games.
Other Cardiff staff to make the pages of staff magazines include Private John Watkins of Employers Liability who lined the route of the Coronation in 1953 and his colleague, Mary Phillips who made her first television appearance, making Christmas decorations, on Welsh Children's Hour in 1954.
The Employers Liability Cardiff branch must have been a vibrant place as Workmen's Compensation insurance was an important part of business in the city. In 1920, a year after the photograph below was taken, premium income for the General Accident branch was £62,547 of which over £50,000 was for Workmen's Compensation business.
By this time the branch had moved from 91 St. Mary Street...
...to new offices at 10 Working Street. The staff magazine of 1906 wrote: "Magnificently appointed new offices have been opened by the company in Working Street in the centre of the city, which are undoubtedly the finest insurance offices in the district, fitted up as they are, in the most up-to-date style." The address does seem to have been a good one as Norwich Union opened a branch a few doors down in 1912.
The Norwich Union branch moved again, in 1915, to 90 Queen Street and once more in 1936 to number 96. In 1958 the company transferred to new offices at 14-15 Park Place as shown below.
The following year the managing director of General Accident described their offices, at 18 St Andrews Crescent, as "disappointingly insignificant". This resulted in a move to new premises at 31-33 Newport Road which were photographed for the staff magazine of 1963...
... and later snapped, in a less flattering shot, by a staff member.
In 1977 staff at the branch celebrated the promotion of Dwynwen Evans to assistant branch manager. Having started her career as a typist in the Swansea branch in 1949 she was only the second woman in the company to achieve the position.
Aviva's final claim to Cardiff fame comes through Employers Liability whose director, Sir Reginald Verdon Smith, made the first landing in civil aviation history in the centre of Cardiff. He arrived by Sycamore helicopter for a Federation of British Industries lunch in 1954 and landed on the cricket pitch at Cardiff Arms Park.