Following the flame: Coventry - how many heaters?
01 Jul 2012
Posted by: Anna Stone
Subjects: Interesting stories
Our earliest recorded Coventry agent worked for Norwich Union Fire in 1812 and that company set up our first sub-branch in the city exactly 100 years later under resident inspector E D Turner.
In the intervening years Norwich Union was represented by John Child in 1818 and by George Jonathan Wigley in 1828. By this date another Aviva constituent, West of England, was represented in Coventry by Joseph Butterworth. Also operating in Coventry was the short-lived East of England Mutual Life which was established in 1849 and later became part of Norwich Union. The policy above was taken out with the company by Emma Benton of Coventry in 1856.
By 1914 the Norwich Union Coventry office was at 7 Warwick Row which seems to have been a popular location for insurance companies as General Accident opened a sub branch at No 10 in 1928. By 1938 Ocean Accident had moved from their rooms at 16 Hertford Street to No 17 Warwick Row and Norwich Union had moved the other way taking up residence at 23 Hertford Street a few doors down from Scottish Union and National's offices at No 17.
In 1933 General Accident's resident inspectors for Coventry moved to new premises at 1 Landsdowne Place which they still occupied when the blitz hit Coventry in 1940. On 2nd November an unexploded bomb forced the temporary evacuation of the office and a second near miss occurred in April the following year which "messed the place about a bit."An inventory of the Coventry office furniture, written in this period, survives in the archive and includes 12 filing trays, 14 rubber stamps, and one "swivel-type hat stand". The office also appeared to have a large number of heaters including "nine radiants" and, as you will see later in the blog, abundant heaters were also a feature of the branch in the 1970s.
Other branch offices damaged in the blitz included that of Union Assurance at 29 Hertford Street which forced the staff, Mr G Dutton and Miss Stringer, to move in with their colleagues at Ocean Accident. The Ocean Accident branch buildings suffered very little actual damage but Miss Constance Humphreys, who worked there, later recalled them having to evacuate for several weeks due to time bombs during which period they used her house in Styvechale Avenue as an emergency office.
By 1952 Commercial Union had joined its subsidiaries in the Ocean Accident offices at 17 Warwick Row under manager S E Wright while Road Transport and General were based in these offices at 2 Queen's Road.
1954 saw the Commercial Union Group move to new offices at 317 Broadgate House where this photograph of the staff was taken.
A decade later staff moved again, to Copthall House opposite the station. The photograph below shows the "excellent accommodation", in the new building whose staff of just over 50 played host to the company magazine's joint editors in 1966. They found the Coventry staff had "very youthful looks, which is in keeping with the fresh buoyant air of the city itself." The manager by this date was Frank J Bourne and his staff included Harry Cahill, formerly of Belfast branch, who had represented Great Britain in the Olympic Games of 1960 and 1964.
By 1971 Bourne had been replaced as manager by D Dobson while over at General Accident's new premises at Park House, Station Square, F E Packwood was in control having been a resident inspector in Coventry since 1940. The photograph below shows a youthful Mr Packwood and is part of a football team photograph taken when he worked in Birmingham in 1927.
In 1974 staff at General Accident found their office festooned with propane heaters.
The heaters, which apparently caused "a few raised eyebrows" from customers, and "a few singed ones" among the staff, were installed by the landlords after the central heating broke down and staff blew the fuses using electric fires brought in from home.
I'll finish with an unusual insurance link between Norwich Union and the new Coventry Cathedral in 1959. The company's glass department provided cover for the new 60 foot high and 40 foot wide baptistery window which had been designed by John Piper. The policy covered the storage of the individual panes while they were being made by Patrick Reyntiens and during their subsequent transport to the cathedral.