Following the flame: Inverness - dominated by Mr Duffy
09 Jun 2012
Posted by: Anna Stone
Subjects: Interesting stories
Aviva's first agent in Inverness, Peter Anderson, was appointed in 1809 by North British Insurance Company and by 1813 the company was running a fire engine there which they purchased from the Aberdeen Insurance Company.
By 1818 they had been joined by Norwich Union Life , represented by Lewis Grant a bookseller...
...and by 1842 Scottish National was operating in Inverness under William Short of the British Linen Company.
By 1870 Northern Assurance were operating in Inverness under agent Thomas Douglas of the City of Glasgow Bank.
By 1877 he had been replaced by William Corner who had this special envelope printed...
...and through whom the policy below was taken out by Robert MacRae, a local mason, in 1878.
General Accident first appeared in the town (as it was then) in 1889 when their agent was listed as Richard Duffy. While representing General Accident for accident insurance Mr Duffy was also agent for Norwich Union's Fire and Life business in Inverness. He was listed as their agent by 1892 and photographed for the staff magazine on his appointment as district manager, based at Norwich Union Chambers on the corner of Academy Street, in 1898.
But this was still not enough for Mr Duffy who also founded our two Inverness-based constituent companies. In 1894, while working for both Norwich Union and General Accident, he spotted a type of insurance he wasn't offering and promptly set up his own company to sell it! The North of Scotland Plate Glass, as the new concern was known, was eventually purchased by General Accident in 1923.
Two years later Mr Duffy set up the North of Scotland Fire Insurance Company from offices at 3 Union Street. The company was sold to Norwich Union Fire and amongst its records I found this policy of 1898 taken out by Alexander Gardner Scott, a clerk at the company, insuring his property in lodgings at 30 Hill Terrace.
In 1906 Mr Duffy was forced to choose between Norwich Union and General Accident when the former took up accident insurance meaning he could not act for both. After a visit from Francis Norie-Miller (who had a much shorter journey than Mr Bignold way down in Norwich) he chose to stay with “GA”.
1906 was an interesting year for the branch as it paid out what is thought to have been the very first claim under the Workmen's Compensation Act. At 1pm on the day the act became law an Inverness policyholder reported that his domestic servant had injured her foot on a rusty nail while jumping down off a table and called upon the company to pay the doctor's bill.
By the following year the branch, under resident secretary Mr R Duffy, was at 28 Queensgate. They were still in the same premises a decade later when the branch became the first to employ a woman as chief clerk. In 1917 Miss Helen Shand, formerly of both North of Scotland Plate Glass and of Norwich Union, was appointed to the position. The previous post holder, Sergeant-Piper William Fraser, had been called up for military duty for the second time having recovered from injuries sustained at the Battle of Loos.
In 1920 General Accident moved to Portree House 15 High Street where they still resided in 1924 when Mr Duffy retired after 35 years with the company. The picture below appeared in the staff magazine of 1911 with a feature on the man which referred to his involvement in the establishment of Inverness Investment and Permanent Building Society and the Portree Wool Mill Company, his role as town councillor and magistrate and his love of cricket and golf.
You might think that this is the end of “Duffy domination” but you would be wrong. Richard Duffy was replaced as joint manager by Mr D Duffy and S Hutcheson and from 1928-1948 Mr D Duffy was in sole charge. He may well be among those pictured below outside the company's agricultural show stand in 1932.
Staff photographs at agricultural shows are actually a bit of a theme with Inverness as we also have this undated photograph of Northern Assurance Inverness staff...
...and this showing General Accident's branch manager James D Fraser and his staff at a show in 1959.
By this date the branch controlled an area of 11,000 square miles with a total population of just 223,000. According to the staff magazine the most northerly part of the area covered was actually closer to Norway than to the branch office at 7 Ardross Terrace Inverness.
My final Inverness story concerns the house warming party held to celebrate the move to 7 Ardross Terrace at the end of 1955. The then branch manager, Mr Leishman (shown seated centre), wrote to head office with details of the event which was attended by 100 guests.
He then left his successor, James D Fraser, the unenviable task of getting head office to pay the bill for the refreshments. In response Mr Fraser received a memo saying that the cost of spirits (at £41 5s, the equivalent of £844 today) was "surprisingly high".
His superiors had calculated that this equated to 8s per head on spirits and demanded an explanation. Mr Fraser replied that almost all those who attended had drunk whisky, with the exception of one agent spotted drinking sherry, and concluded that the expense "really was what we expected because you can rest assured that at these functions in the North the clientele take full advantage of the hospitality offered".
I've struggled to find a suitable link to introduce this final photograph, of Norwich Union's Inverness branch decorated for an unidentified occasion, but I've failed - so here it is just because I like it.
© Andrew Paterson/Scottish Highlander Photo Archive
Addendum – thanks to the detective work of the Facebook group, ‘Inverness when you were a kid’, we can now confirm that the building was decorated for the coronation of George VI in 1937. More information about this particular image can be found on the Scottish Highlander Photo Archive website (ref 31293).