Following the flame: Dundee - 230 years of history
12 Jun 2012
Posted by: Anna Stone
Subjects: Interesting stories
Aviva can trace its presence in Dundee back to 1782 when Dundee Assurance Company Against Losses by Fire was established.
The company was founded by David Blair, a local merchant, who also founded the Dundee Infirmary and the Hospital for Lunatics. The first offices of the company were in his house on the corner of Horse Wynd and by 1809 the firm had a fire engine based at New Inn Entry. In 1826 it was acquired by another local concern, Forfarshire and Perthshire (established 1823), which was itself purchased in 1856 by Northern.
By 1825 other Aviva companies had agencies in Dundee: Norwich Union under David Jobson, Hercules under A Crichton, North British under Henry Bell and West of England under Neish and Smart. Most of these, like Robert Miller of Union Assurance, appear to have been operating in Cowgate. Cowgate was also the home of the Northern's Dundee branch which moved to No 12 in 1870 under manager Mr A Duncan.
A decade later Scottish Accident was operating in Dundee and paid out £15 to a surgeon whose finger was bitten as he examined inside a patient's mouth!
By 1890 General Accident had begun operations in Dundee and the following photograph of the company's staff in Perth included their Dundee colleagues.
By this date Norwich Union was operating at 62 Commercial Street and by 1897 the branch had moved to 16 Meadowside as advertised in this promotional calendar.
The photograph below was found stuck to the back of the calendar and may well feature Dundee staff from this period.
General Accident was also operating from offices in Commercial Street by this date although they moved in 1900 to 4 High Street and again in 1912 to 59 Reform Street. They were still at Reform Street in 1926 when the deputy general manager visited and reported the office to be "comparatively tidy" whilst also noting the "distinct odour proceeding from the basement by the stair into the main office".
No doubt as a result of this latter observation a new office was built and opened on the site in 1930. The photograph below shows company and local dignitaries after the opening ceremony...
...while this shows the building itself few years later.
In 1937 John M Robb was appointed manager for General Accident in Dundee and became the first staff member to drive a “company car”' when he took possession of an old "Bean" which had previously belonged to Francis Norie-Miller. I wonder if the office car was used to ferry staff to the 1937 annual dance at which the photograph below was taken?
It was under Mr Robb's successor, W K Black, that a member of General Accident's motor staff on duty at the front desk was accosted by a monkey "in a natty striped pullover". According to the staff magazine the animal stole his pen and seemed intent on completing his own proposal form for livestock insurance.
Another story from the branch concerns a claims superintendent who wrote to a third party claiming reimbursement for the cost of repairs. In reply he received a letter from the third party's wife, "my husband left me four weeks ago. He owes me £40. You find him." Around the same period Norwich Union were also chasing a third party for payment when he got in contact saying he had no money but was prepared to clean their windows to the value of the loss!
My favourite piece of Dundee customer correspondence comes from North British and Mercantile who wrote to an elderly motor policy holder asking for proof that he was in good health a capable of driving. His reply: "I will likely be across to Dundee on Monday first and will bring with me my doctor, my dentist, my chiropodist, and my gun! Meet me if you dare!"
This reply reminded me of a response received by an unidentified General Accident branch asking a similar question in 1937: "May I thank you for so charmingly making enquiries about my age? But it makes me quite bashful! Just between you and myself, I was born some time after the Battle of Waterloo. Isn't it funny that I have insured my car with you for over fifteen years and you are only now taking a personal interest in my welfare?
“If you would like a few more personal details for your books, I do not mind letting you know that I do not like (a) rhubarb, (b) most modern novelists, (c) coloured finger nails, (d) the Northcliffe and Rothermere Press, (e) Insurance Companies who make impertinent enquiries."