Following the flame: Nottingham - ice rinks and more literary links
28 Jun 2012
Posted by: Anna Stone
Subjects: Interesting stories
Aviva's earliest known Nottingham agent was Charles Twells who is listed in an advertisement for Norwich General in 1797. A decade later Messrs J & T Bishop were representing Norwich Union Fire and by 1818 Norwich Union Life had appointed William Morley.
In 1835 the first of our local constituent companies, Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire Fire and Life Assurance, was established.
The company's life business was acquired by Norwich Union Life in 1869 by which time that company's local agent was Francis Burton. Commercial Union's agent by this date was the grocer A P Goodliffe and in 1889 the company acquired the second of our Nottingham constituents, Nottinghamshire and Midland Fire, which had been established five years earlier.
1889 also saw the establishment of a Northern Assurance Nottingham branch under M Middleton Gouldie. By the following year the branch address was 15 Victoria Street where less than a decade earlier a certain James Matthew Barrie, later author of Peter Pan, had worked as a journalist in the mid 1880s.
Aged just 15, Drinkwater started on a salary of £20 per annum which had risen to £55 by the time he was transferred to the Birmingham office in 1901. Writing about his early employment in his autobiography Drinkwater admitted to putting letters in the wrong envelopes and finding it hard to make the postage book balance at the end of the week: "Saturday audit seldom failed to catch me out 4d." His poems, like the one below, were regularly printed in the company's staff magazines as they kept an eye on his progress after he left the world of insurance.
The start of the new century saw Nottingham offices opened by General Accident, at Long Row West, and Employers Liability who appointed Ernest Brewill resident inspector in 1908. The following year Norwich Union had an accident branch at 13 Friar Lane while Commercial Union was at 13 Pelham Street under manager George A Smith. The lovely series of photographs of branch staff at work, below, were Nottingham's contribution to Commercial Union's jubilee staff magazine in 1911.
In 1923 Norwich Union's staff moved from offices at Wheelergate to larger premises rented over Montague Burton's shop on Friar Lane. The author of an article in the staff magazine the following year enthused about the joys of having everything on one floor and described the mahogany furnished general office which was 90 feet long and 29 feet wide. The photograph below shows the office in a sorry state during refurbishment work in 1948.
While the new floor was laid, staff moved to the basement showroom in the shop, one of the original Burton's Menswear stores, among the suits and bales of material.
The staff magazine contains numerous reports from the branch including a description of the uniforms, of black kimonos with orange trim, which were worn by the female staff, "the effect on the male eye, at least, is most pleasing!" In the late 1920s and early 1930s the ladies of the branch, with a few male assistants, formed a concert troupe called the Nottingham Canaries.
The Canaries, shown above in 1931, included Edith Elwick (known as Wickie), Eva Smith (known as Smig) and Marion Bullivant. Also fondly remembered in a later article in the staff magazine was Isolene Price known as Icey Pricey.
As well as employing birds, in the form of canaries, the branch also insured them and reported a surge in the summer of 1929 in insurances for parrots. The Nottingham area also seems to have been full of insurance-minded curates. In 1928 a household comprehensive claim was put in by a vicar for 30 shillings after his jar of fermenting rhubarb wine exploded and smashed a light fitting. In 1930 another vicar wrote to the company as follows: "The mechanism of the church clock is out of order in consequence of over-winding by the man who has the maintenance contract. Can we claim under fire policy?"
Also in 1930 General Accident moved from Imperial Buildings Victoria Street to "one of the finest insurance offices in the city" at Bridlesmith Gate.
The former Lloyds Bank Building was re-named General Buildings and photographs of the exterior and interior, with staff at their desks, duly appeared in the staff magazine.
Nottingham must have been a dangerous place in those days as the manager, Mr McNeish, appears to have a row of shotguns above his door.
By 1938 the Employers Liability Nottingham branch had moved to 24 Low Pavement and they had moved to offices at 9 Fletcher Gate by 1950 when a motor policy holder got in touch to see if he was still insured even though robins had built a nest in the dashboard of his car. In 1956 Northern Assurance received this amusing auto-related claim from a motor cyclist: "I was travelling close to the grass verge in the fog when the pedal struck the verge turning me into an old tree stump and hedge bottom."
Three years after this unfortunate accident Norwich Union's staff moved into new premises on the site of the old Savoy Cafe in South Parade.
Many photographs of the new building, like the one below, were taken.
I particularly like this one of the rows of empty desks and telephones...
...and this, showing the branded carpet in the entrance hall.
It was in this building that a young Jayne Torvill, future Olympic gold-medallist, came to work in 1977. The staff magazine proudly recorded her ice skating achievements and printed an interview with her, in 1980, in which she talked about doing a full day's work in the office and then skating until two o'clock in the morning.