Following the flame: Southampton - repairs to a cow...
14 Jul 2012
Posted by: Anna Stone
Subjects: Interesting stories
Aviva's earliest agency in Southampton dates from 1809. As is usually the case, our first agent was appointed by Norwich Union who also provided the policy below for local man Peter Oakley on a house on the west side of Love Lane in 1821.
By the 1860s Norwich Union was represented by a firm of solicitors, Sharp, Harrison, Turner and Co, and Commercial Union had a Southampton agent, R Ellis, who resigned in 1864 as he didn't have enough time to devote to the agency.
By 1879 Commercial Union had appointed a district manager for Southampton and by 1895 Scottish Union had appointed a resident secretary, Hugh R Thomson, with offices at 3 St Michael Street. Also operating in Southampton by this date was Railway Passengers whose lists of claims paid include £38 5 shillings for a man struck on the knee by a cricket ball.
At the turn of the century Norwich Union Life appointed Arthur Stratton Walker as manager for Southampton with offices at 229 Portswood Road. In 1905 the office was moved to 14 Gordon Avenue and the same year Union Assurance opened in Southampton under W Hammock. According to General Accident's staff magazine that company opened a branch in Southampton in 1907 in "modest offices" at 179 High Street where they were still operating, under resident secretary A L Ricketts, below, in 1912.
By this date Norwich Union Life's staff were happily ensconced in rooms in Ocean Buildings at 85 Above Bar which had been the home of Ocean Accident's Southampton branch since at least 1902.
At the end of the First World War General Accident appointed William Ebenezer Pittard manager for Southampton. Pittard, who had fought in the Boar War, was a “pillar of the St John Ambulance Brigade” as this caricature from the staff magazine in 1934 attempts to illustrate.
In 1929 under his leadership the branch moved to these "handsome new buildings" at 14 Cumberland Place facing Watts Park. The building, known as Sutherland House, was remembered locally for having been visited (in a professional capacity) in 1878 by the notorious burglar and murderer Charles Peace.
However, it appears from the photographs taken behind the official camera that such events attracted a great deal of interest from local people and passers by. I will probably never look at the “official shots” again without wondering about the crowds I can't see who are standing behind the photographer.
Photographs, like the one below, were also taken of the interior of the building which was to remain the home of the branch for at least the next 60 years.
Other Aviva constituents, including Commercial Union which also moved in 1929, to 17 Above Bar, did not get to stay in their offices for such a long time. In 1938 four Aviva companies were operating from Above Bar and the nights of the 30 November and 1 December 1940 saw the area devastated in the Southampton blitz.
Ocean Accident's building, which also housed Norwich Union Life, was totally destroyed. All Norwich Union's records were lost but the branch moved to temporary offices at 13 Carlton Crescent, below, and was soon up and running with a typewriter and stationery sent over from Reading. Meanwhile staff in Norwich worked voluntary overtime to reproduce the lost customer records so that a complete set was sent to the branch within a week of the raid.
British General's staff went to view the ruins of their office on the morning of 2 December before setting up a temporary office at 10 Warwick Road in the home of the branch manager Mr Farrington. A replacement typewriter was borrowed from a local vicar and staff worked sitting in arm chairs. A member of staff later wrote about the new filing system which was introduced during their time in the house with routine papers being piled on the floor and important ones on top of the piano.
Following the war Norwich Union moved to these offices at 6 Cumberland Place down the road from General Accident. While Commercial Union moved to Union's offices at 21 Havelock Road which that company had purchased in 1935.
Havelock Road was not designed to house such a large number of staff and in 1953 Commercial Union moved again, with subsidiaries Ocean Accident and British General, into Halifax House.
The staff magazine article to celebrate the move included this photograph of the accident department whose surroundings had been significantly improved on their removal from Havelock Road where they had been based in what was known as “The Hut”, an ex army building erected in the back garden.
The following year Norwich Union moved to new premises, Norwich Union House Above Bar. This was a shop and office block bordering Palmerston Park which, according to the staff magazine, "added yet another block to the well-planned post war development of Southampton".
As well as these, and other, photographs of new premises in Southampton the archive contains two photographs of local innovation that I would like to share with you. The first chronologically is this in-store insurance counter opened by Commercial Union in Southampton department store Edwin Jones in 1969. Designed to allow people to purchase insurance while they browsed for curtains and teapots, the counter was staffed by Miss A Crompton and Miss J C Chapman.
The second image, below, shows the exterior of General Accident's re-modelled 14 Cumberland Place branch in the early 1970s. The forecourt has been cleverly used to display “before” and “after” cars in line with the “keep you motoring” display in the office windows.
I'll end with a Norwich Union story from around the same period - about a repair bill for a cow - enjoy!