Following the flame: Oxford - accidents in the office...
09 Jul 2012
Posted by: Anna Stone
Subjects: Interesting stories
Aviva has been operating in Oxford for over 206 years. In 1806 Norwich Union Fire's agents were Messrs Slater and Munday and by 1818 Norwich Union Life was being represented by G W Syms.
By the end of the century in addition to Norwich Union's two agents, who had represented them since 1877, Commercial Union had four agents in Oxford, Northern had five and Union had three. The policy was taken out by local man Ernest Swinhoe in 1898 via Palatine's Oxford agent Harry Neville Prior. Mr Swinhoe was a natural historian and lepidopterist and the policy covered his moth and butterfly collection.
Our first Oxford office belonged to General Accident who opened a sub branch at 3 Queen Street in 1923. The resident inspector was W J Bayly who appears in the photograph below.
He must have worked hard to make the office a success because a year later it became a full branch and the staff magazine reported that "suitable offices have been acquired at Midland House, George Street, which is in the centre of the business quarter of the city". Mr Bayley was promoted in 1930 and moved to Reading branch and by the following year his successor, H C Wilkinson, was based at 29-31 George Street. The same year Union was at 55 Cornmarket, Northern at 41 Chalfont Road and Norwich Union Fire at 13 Turl Street.
By 1938 General Accident's branch had moved to 33-35 George Street and an article on the office appeared in the staff magazine. According to the editor "the concentration of the narrow streeted city precludes an exterior presentation of our offices," but this (very poor) photograph of manager H G Wilkinson with the local board was included.
The branch also sent in this rather fine photograph of its Banbury sub branch.
The following year the Oxford branch staff would have been too busy to provide any photographs at all as many of the younger members of staff signed up to serve in the forces on the outbreak of war. After a visit to the branch in late 1939 the general manager reported that Mr Wilkinson had been working too hard trying to take on the work of those who had gone. He also noted that E L Jefferies, who had taken over the underwriting, was doing "excellent work" and should have "special consideration at the end of the year".
In 1952 General Accident's staff moved to new premises at Hythe Bridge Street under manager V J Roynon and the same year Ocean Accident opened a full branch in Oxford under F J Bourne. In 1958 the Ocean Accident staff moved, along with those of Commercial Union and Union, to new premises at Clarendon House Cornmarket Street. To mark the occasion a photograph of the staff was taken...
...and one of their new offices.
By 1962 Road Transport and General's resident inspector C W Parsons was also based at Clarendon House, which was photographed for that company's premises department records.
In 1970 Road Transport's parent company, General Accident, moved to improved premises at Barclay House 242-254 Banbury Road. They were newly built offices above Jack Barclay's Rolls and Bentley showrooms. The company's close links with the local motor trade were also reflected in this special motor prospectus for employees of British Leyland, produced in 1975.
The company's next move, in 1982, was also linked to the motor trade as the new offices, Lambourne House 311-321 Banbury Road, were on the site of the former Bristol Street Motors Garage.
I want to end with a look at the entries in a series of accident report books which were kept by the General Accident Oxford branch from the 1960s-1990s. The books must have been kept at every branch but these from Oxford are the only ones which have survived to become part of the archive collection. They offer an interesting snapshot of the dangers of office work in this period from fingers cut on the ubiquitous brass fasteners of the 1960s to lacerations caused by a snapping biro.
The 1970s saw a spate of Venetian-blind-related accidents and the installation of a new “reemploy” filing system in 1977 also caused a number of injuries at the branch. In an age when staff were responsible for moving their own desks there were a number of incidents of squashed toes and also a surprising number of cuts from the sharp edges of the regulation waste paper bins.
Technology also seems to have caused a few problems with reports of a finger bruised on a calculating machine in the 1960s, a typist flicked in the eye with her dictating headphones in the 1970s and the hand of a cleaner caught under one of the “new fangled” mini computers in the 1980s!