Following the flame: Newcastle - poison, pushy mothers and a perfect referee
15 Jun 2012
Posted by: Anna Stone
Subjects: Interesting stories
Aviva's history in Newcastle begins with a local company founded nearly 230 years ago. The Newcastle Upon Tyne Fire Office was established on 13 November 1783 and their policy header is my favourite in the archive collection.
Contemporary reports of local fires include many references to the Newcastle Fire Office brigade who attended fires such as the one "on the north side of Shakespeare Street near the theatre" in 1843. Also in attendance at this fire was the engine from the North British brigade. That company's agent, Mr Smith at 14 Sandhill, wrote to head office the same year about the brave actions of the brigade foreman William Appleton. He also reminded them of the agreement with the Newcastle company, which they eventually took over in 1859, to attend each other's fires free of charge.
Relations between the two offices had not always been so friendly and Mr Smith was one of a number of agents there to back a bill in Parliament in 1834 which was being opposed by Newcastle Fire. The bill, "to improve water supply to the town and county of Newcastle," was supported by a petition, below, signed by agents of other Aviva companies including George Brumell for Union Assurance , William Fordyce for Yorkshire and William Hutton for Norwich Union.
William Fordyce wrote to his head office in York about the bill and explained that Newcastle Fire were opposing it as they owned the existing Newcastle Water Company! The proprietors of the Newcastle Fire Office were certainly innovators for in addition to running the insurance company and the (inadequate) water works they also introduced gas light to Newcastle running the service until 1830 when they sold it to the Newcastle upon Tyne Subscription Gas Light Company.
The flyer below gives details of their charges which were on a sliding scale depending on the time selected for the lights to go out!
The brigades belonging to Aviva's fire companies were involved in fighting the Newcastle and Gateshead fire of 1854 and the companies were petitioned in 1861 to provide support for the new brigade being established by the corporation. Newcastle Fire and its new parent company North British agreed to donate engines and apparatus to the new establishment and £100 a year towards its running costs.
By 1865 North British (now North British and Mercantile) had a branch at 25 Mosley Street and within the following decade other Scottish companies such as Scottish National , Scottish Union and Northern had all opened branches there. In 1879 Northern moved into new offices built on the corner of Collingwood Street and Groat Market. The building was designed by Mr Johnstone and the company were still there 80 years later.
When the premises were extended in 1881 they built on a site which had previously been the chemist shop of J C Eno inventor of Eno's salts which are still manufactured by GlaxoSmithKline today. The staff magazine for 1934 included the drawing below of Mr Eno's shop sketched from an original photograph.
By the end of the 1880s Edinburgh Life had a branch in Newcastle and Scottish Accident was also operating there. That company's lists of claims paid for the period include a number of amusing stories such as the Newcastle manufacturer who sprained his shoulder while having his hair shampooed and a draper who scalded his big toe when the handle of a jug broke.
The company's agent, Holmes White, also produced a promotional leaflet, below, retelling the unfortunate end of Newcastle cement merchant Thomas Dove, who died after his lamb was roasted in a dish previously used to mix insecticide.
In 1889 Norwich Union moved to new offices at 44 Dean Street 100 yards from the Tyne Bridge.
The company had been operating in Newcastle since at least 1803 with an agency which, from 1839, was closely linked to the Panton family. When the new branch opened Hugh Panton, below, was manager and the third generation of his family to serve the society.
In 1900 Mr Panton retired and was replaced by his son Frederick William Panton...
...and J H Chapman as joint managers. The branch moved this year to 1 Mosley Street where they remained for the next 28 years. It was while the branch was at this address that they received the following answer to a question on a proposal form designed to assess the risk posed by “modern” lighting methods: "Q: How are the premises lighted? - A: By windows."
In 1902 the second of our Newcastle constituents, Newcastle and District Plate Glass Insurance, was established under Mr Holmes White, below, (remember him from the Scottish Accident poisoned meat story?).
The company was acquired in 1913 by Yorkshire Insurance who had themselves been operating in the city since 1825. By 1913 Yorkshire had a branch at Collingwood Buildings, Collingwood Street under manager R L Reed, photographed below in 1924.
In 1908 Edinburgh Life moved to a new building on "one of the best central sites in Newcastle" at 21 Mosley Street and 10 Grey Street. The architect was Frederick T Walker who liked the building so much that he rented rooms in it from the company.
A booklet produced to commemorate the opening gives details of the carvings of “plenty” and “security” about the main door...
...and the "electrically controlled clocks throughout the building".
There was a restaurant in the basement, run by Messrs Spier and Pond, and "well ventilated" lavatories on the fifth floor constructed with the "very best" fittings, sadly these were not photographed!
In 1911 General Accident moved to "much more suitable" premises at 31 Mosley Street while Commercial Union were at number 12. That year, to celebrate the company's jubilee the artists and wordsmiths of the Commercial Union branch came up with the following contributions for the staff magazine.
In 1915 Commercial Union's staff moved to new premises in Pilgrim Street designed by architects Marshall and Tweedy and in 1927 General Accident moved to these new offices at 48-50 Grey Street.
Not to be outdone Norwich Union moved the following year to new premises at 44 Westgate Road a photograph of which was featured in the staff magazine...
...along with one showing all the branch staff.
The photograph below of General Accident's staff in the same period features manager John R Davidson who had been appointed to the position in 1922.
In 1930 Mr Davidson celebrated 40 years service with the company at a special dinner and dance.
According to our staff files Mr Davidson was the second employee in the company's history to reach 50 years service, which he celebrated in 1939, having been first employed at Glasgow branch in 1889. His salary on appointment was 5 shillings a week and his mother made it a condition of his employment that it be paid to her and not to him!
1939 was also an important year for Northern staff member T Thompson. "Tommy Thompson", as he was known, refereed the FA cup final that year, the youngest referee to take a cup final at Wembley. Described by the Arsenal manager George Allison as the "perfect referee" he did not have a single decision queried by either players or crowd during the match. Thompson also refereed international matches for Holland and Belgium and a notorious match in 1945 between Glasgow Rangers and Moscow Dynamo when Moscow tried to play with 12 men!
1939 also saw the evacuation of Norwich Union's Newcastle branch to Riding Mill as they felt their "magnificent site" would be a potential target in air raids. The company selected the "least dilapidated" of a selection of vacant properties in Riding Mill for the duration of hostilities. After the war the company returned to their Westgate Road premises....
...and in 1966 new offices were built on the same site. An article in the staff magazine that year said that they were not sure what shop was going to rent the ground floor but "no doubt married ladies on the staff are crossing their fingers for a supermarket" - I would love to know what they got.