Following the flame: Liverpool - touching the tiger
01 Jun 2012
Posted by: Anna Stone
Subjects: Interesting stories
Aviva's earliest history in Liverpool is closely linked to insurance against fire. Our first agent, the delightfully named H Crakanthorp, represented Norwich Union Fire from at least 1806 and by 1809 Harris and Johnstone of Fenwick Street were acting for the fire insurer Norwich General.
By 1815 Norwich Union Fire's agent was Richard Dawson who placed this press advertisement...
...and by 1816 the company had its own brigade in Liverpool. Contemporary local newspaper reports include numerous references to the brigade which, by 1818, was based at Seel Street with 20 retained men. Agency accounts for that year show £222 1s 7d was spent on the engine and associated equipment.
At a fire in 1823 in Castle Street the Norwich Union brigade was said to be "conspicuously active" and an article from 1832 described their foreman, John Hewitt, as "zealous and experienced". Another Aviva company, West of England, also maintained a Liverpool brigade whose "unwearied exertions" saved a warehouse in a fire in 1830. Both brigades were handed over to the corporation in 1837.
This meant that our brigades were not involved in fighting the great Liverpool fire of 1842 but the companies did bear a significant percentage of the huge losses which resulted. A list of estimated losses for all the Liverpool insurers was collated by Yorkshire Insurance agents on the afternoon of the following day.
Six of the companies listed are now part of Aviva with a combined estimated loss of £58,600 or (£39,500,000 in today's money). Actual losses borne by the companies may well have been much higher, certainly Scottish Union's minutes record their actual loss as £42,000, over double the original estimate. In 1860 another fire, in Liverpool's Stanley Dock, had particular impact on Norwich Union Life when the company's agent, John Ulric Andersson, was killed while in attendance in the course of his work for the company.
Liverpool's status as a port also had an impact on insurance there; as early as 1822 Norwich Union Life's agent was perplexing head office with a proposal for £3,000 on the life of "a captain trading to the Brazils." It is likely that the port was the reason foreign companies chose to have agencies here including our subsidiary New Zealand Insurance Company which first appointed an agent, T Sanderson, in 1865.
Many other lesser known constituent companies also had offices here such as National of Ireland, which had a branch in Fenwick Street by 1887, and the City of London Fire Insurance Co and Reliance Mutual Life both of whom had branches by 1891.
It is evident that the city was not short of insurance underwriters indeed in 1887 Scottish Accident paid compensation of £10 to an "underwriter of Liverpool - struck by policeman in crowd."
Among our constituents are also some companies founded in Liverpool such as Tod and Ashton (established 1841) and the short-lived Law Integrity Insurance Company, which was established in 1906 and soon moved to an address at 38 Church Street. Another niche local concern, the British Mercantile Masters Officers and Engineers Certificate Protection Society, was acquired by Commercial Union in 1913.
Of our larger constituents North British & Mercantile had a branch by 1864 and Northern by 1872 under J B Moffat. By 1879 General Life had a Liverpool branch whose image appeared on company prospectuses.
In 1887 General Accident opened a small branch at 6 Castle Street "served by a loyal staff of two" including manager Thomas McPherson.
The following year Norwich Union moved its branch to 27 Castle Street while Northern Assurance and North British and Mercantile both had offices in Tithebarn Street. In 1910 General Accident's branch moved to 14 Chapel Street "a thoroughfare right in the centre of business activity".
The following year Norwich Union staff member Herbert S Moss received an award for rescuing a lady from the river Mersey at New Brighton. Sadly we have no photograph of this hero but we do have one of his manager, W H Andersson, who retired in 1927 after 42 years at the helm.
One of the first decisions made by his replacement, F P Pratt, was to invite the children of all life policy holders to watch from the office windows when the King and Queen visited to open Gladstone Dock.
In 1929 Yorkshire Insurance opened a new building at 18 Chapel Street...
...under manager J B Hirst.
In 1933 General Accident's manager Herbert J Sadler and his staff received a visit from the deputy general manager who described the offices as "excellent" but "a little old Fashioned". His thoughts on the branch football team, below, are not recorded...
...and views on this team from 1910 are lost in the mists of time.
A series of reports made after visits from head office add much colour to the history of the branch. In 1936 Mr Sadler attributed the lack of new business to "the severe winter and the dislocation caused by the death of King George" while in 1939 he suggested the company purchase bicycles for inspectors to avoid problems under petrol rationing. The photograph below shows Norwich Union's enterprising use of ARP sandbags as a adverting hording in the same period.
In 1945, by which time GBW Hailey was Liverpool manager for General Accident, the general manager was "struck by the cheerfulness and enthusiasm prevailing in the office". This was with the notable exception of one man who had not had a pay rise and was "touchy and unpopular with staff and agents". The report described T F Wilson, fire superintendent, as "energetic, enthusiastic and ambitious" and chief clerk, W A Harkness, as "thoroughly reliable and sound".
At around the same period, over at Commercial Union, two men were entering an insurance career which was not, ultimately, to last. It would be interesting to know what management at this company made of Leonard Rossiter who was appointed in 1948...
...and fellow future actor Michael Williams who started at the branch in 1951.
For example, would either have been described, like General Accident's inspector J O Roberts, as "untidy in appearance but undoubtedly keen"? Certainly by 1952 Rossiter's acting talents had been recognised and the staff magazine records him appearing with "consistent success in Liverpool amateur productions."
As well as talented staff the Aviva Liverpool branches had talented customers including the award winning Fodens Motor Works Band whose instruments, coach, health and lives were insured by Employers Liability in 1954.
In 1963 Commercial Union's staff moved to new offices at Drury House 19 Water Street.
The branch boasted a staff canteen...
...and was illuminated at night.
Commercial Union's records also include a photograph album of Liverpool branch management mug shots...
...while General Accident's file includes a similar style photograph of their manager R C Chapman.
When Mr Chapman retired in 1975 his successor was Mr Alan Cross who was still in charge in 1982 when the branch moved to 7 Water Street. The company purchased the Grade II listed building, which was in a prominent position at the junction of Water and Fenwick streets, for £1.2 million.
Once the home of the Bank of Liverpool, the new premises came with a pair of bronze tiger heads which had traditionally been "touched for luck" by passing sailors.