Following the flame: Maidstone - battle of the bands!
19 Jul 2012
Posted by: Anna Stone
Subjects: Interesting stories
Norwich Union had an agency in Maidstone as early as 1808. By 1818 the Norwich Union Life agency was under George Hawkins and Norwich Union Fire was running a fire brigade there. A contemporary newspaper report congratulated the Norwich Union brigade on its "characteristic alacrity" arriving first on the scene of a fire and in 1821, when the company was reorganised, the Maidstone engine was valued at £125 19 shillings with its buckets estimated to be worth a further £5 10 shillings.
The policy below was taken out with the company in 1829 covering gloves, coats and hats belonging to the stewards of the Friendly Brother Society of Maidstone which they appear to have worn to attend funerals.
By the 1860s Norwich Union Life's Maidstone agent was Charles Parker while Commercial Union was represented by Mr J Whibley. The 1880s saw Norwich Union Fire appoint local seed merchants, Styles Brothers, as agents while Norwich and London Accident's agent was F Norman who was based at 6 High Street.
In 1891 J T Crouch of 40 Earl Street was the Maidstone agent for Commercial Union, and Railway Passengers was also operating in Maidstone paying £36 compensation to a local mining engineer who sprained his knee playing tennis.
Our earliest known Maidstone branch was established by Ocean Accident at around the turn of the century and by 1913 our Kent subsidiary, Medway, also had a branch there. In 1915 General Accident moved its Canterbury branch operations to Maidstone which, according to the staff magazine, was "a more convenient centre from which to work the district concerned." Five years later the Maidstone office went by the title of “Kent branch” and was under the control of J A Goodhew.
1920 also saw Norwich Union Fire move from 12 Middle Row to Westborough Chambers and two years later General Accident's seven staff moved to new premises at 2 Middle Row. A few years after that, in 1926, the company appointed a local board whose photographs, reproduced below, appeared in the staff magazine.
In 1931 Henry Heath Hellyer was appointed manager of Norwich Union Life's Maidstone branch at 10 Middle Row.
By this date the General Accident Maidstone branch had sub branches at Chatham, Canterbury and Folkestone. The company's premises at 2 Middle Row were refurbished in 1935 while staff moved to temporary offices at 44 Earl Street. The following decade Norwich Union staff also moved to Earl Street, into new permanent offices at No 35. The move to the new building, in 1946, was completed within a day and brought fire and life staff under one roof in Maidstone for the first time. The photograph below, of the combined Maidstone staff, appeared in the staff magazine the following year.
A decade later the Norwich Union staff moved again, to temporary premises in Week Street, while new premises were built on the 35 Earl Street site. The new building, which officially opened in July 1957, was described as "an impressive five storeys of steel frame construction with red brick elevation smartly set off with white stone dressings around the entrance and windows".
The official housewarming ceremony was attended by a special guest, fireman George, who still lives with us in the archive today. You may be able to spot him in the photograph below wearing his replica 1820 fireman's uniform.
Two decades later and Commercial Union staff were celebrating their Maidstone housewarming with this very splendid cake.
Their move, to the original site of the Kent Messenger's premises at Brenchley House, took place in October 1977 and this photograph of staff busy at their new desks appeared in the staff magazine in December.
Two years later General Accident moved to these new premises at 5-6 Bower Terrace.
From the muted exterior you might not have guessed the bright vibrant colours used inside but fortunately we have a photograph.
I'll end with the bands which were formed, 30 years apart, from Norwich Union's Maidstone staff. The photograph below shows members of a rock group, the Whirlwinds, meeting Princess Alexandra of Kent after a gig to celebrate the golden jubilee of the Kent Association of Mixed Clubs and Girls Clubs in 1961. Staff members David Carter and Colin Honey played in the group which had been formed by members of St Nicholas Youth Fellowship.
Our second “in-house band”, the Clamdiggers, was formed by three members of Norwich Union's Maidstone life staff in the 1990s. Shown below, with fellow band members, are Pete Angell and Andy Ince from the Norwich Union pensions department and Jon Gangell who was a sales consultant at the branch.
I wonder if Maidstone was our most musical branch?