Following the flame: York - David Niven's doubles
19 Jun 2012
Posted by: Anna Stone
Subjects: Interesting stories
Aviva's history in York is really the history of Yorkshire Insurance. The company was established as Yorkshire Fire and Life Insurance in 1824, the "establishment of such an office in the city of York, as the capital and centre resort in this great agricultural and commercial county being considered desirable".
By the time the company was established at least 10 other insurers were operating in the city, among them Norwich Union Fire and Life Societies who had appointed agents by at least 1818. The new company's first offices, in Coney Street, were rented from Mr Mallatrat but within its first 18 months of operation it had acquired a former doctor's house on the corner of Breary’s Court and St Helen's Square.
In 1834 the company purchased a library building on the corner of Lendal for £2,880 and in 1837 two cottages in Breary’s Court were also acquired. These formed a substantial site on which to build what was to remain the head office of the company for more than the next 100 years. During the building work which followed, part of a Roman wall was discovered and the site was identified as being on the Praetorian Gate, a main entrance into the city in around 300AD.
The building was completed in 1847 and the archive contains a number of photographs of it, mostly from the start of the 20th century.
One of my favourites is the one below showing the offices decorated for the coronation of George V in 1911.
One of the Yorkshire's first actions was purchase a fire engine and by the time the company's offices were completed they would have owned one like that shown in the picture below.
Thanks to a series of invoices and receipts in the archive I know more about Yorkshire's engine than I do about any of the engines run by our other companies. One invoice, reproduced below, from W J Tilley of London describes in great detail the "carriage fire engine" which was to be painted blue and red and "varnished complete".
On each side of the engine EBOR was to be written in gold and in front the name of the company and the year. Among the fire brigade “accessories” purchased with the engine were copper pipes, 300 feet of hose, four ladders, a crow bar, a pick axe and a hand saw in a leather case.
The same series of receipts gives a good indication of what the men riding on such a fine engine would have looked like. The invoice below, from local woollen draper and tailor Richard Evers in 1842, describes the uniform as a brown kersey frock coat and stout striped moleskin trousers. The brigade foreman, William Swale would have been easily identified by his gold neckline and shoulder cords and his brown double breasted waistcoat.
This invoice is particularly interesting because it names the individuals for whom the uniforms were being made. In addition to Mr Swale we have Thomas Taylor, William Percival, Thomas Lesers, Daniel Quin, and Andrew Burley. Later in the year Mr Flintoff had his coat altered and his trousers remade and Messrs. Darbyshire and Hobson had their coats repaired. Of these men only foreman Swale is also listed on the notice below which dates from around 1830.
Of the firemen on this earlier list Swale, Turner, Nalton, Lund, Pullon and Garbutt are known to have received a special reward of 5 shillings each for their services in fighting the York Minster fire of 1829 . The fire was started by incendiarist Jonathan Martin and destroyed the choir, pulpits, organ and much irreplaceable music. The engine from the Yorkshire, which did not insure the Minster, was one of nine engines involved in fighting the blaze. Also in attendance was the Norwich Union engine which came all the way from Leeds.
In addition to their special payments on occasions such as the Minster fire, the men of the brigade were also provided with beer while they worked. According to the brigade rules no beer was allowed for the first hour but thereafter each man was entitled to a pint every two hours. By the time York Corporation assumed responsibility for the fire service in York in 1876 the Yorkshire's engine house was at Aldwark St Andrewgate as shown in this photograph taken in around 1963 when the company were still using the building as a stationery store.
By the time the fire brigade was handed over to the corporation a number of other Aviva companies had started operating in the city. West of England and Scottish National had appointed agents by 1828 and 1844 respectively and in 1864 Commercial Union appointed tea dealer John Hall. By 1878 Railway Passengers were operating in the city and paid £13 10s compensation to a clergyman injured after falling over a dog while playing tennis.
In 1888 another local company, York City and District Plate Glass, was established. By 1890 this company was operating from Exchange Buildings under manager and secretary John Hetherton. It was acquired in 1923 by another local company, Farmers' Finance and Insurance Office, which had been established by the same man in 1900 with offices at 8 Clifford Street and which was eventually itself absorbed by Yorkshire Insurance.
In 1906, despite the presence of specialist accident companies like Railway Passengers, Yorkshire Country Cricket Club chose to take out accident insurance with the local firm. Among the accident claims made by the team was one for fast bowler Herbert Amos Sedgwick and another for James William Rothery who played 150 matches for the club between 1903 and 1910.
For most of 20th century I have very little information on other Aviva companies operating in York. We know Norwich Union had a branch there by 1908 as staff member Ernest Watson won the Yorkshire Lawn Tennis amateur singles for the third time that year. By 1931 General Accident had a branch office at 18 Coney Street and by 1952 Commercial Union was in these offices at St Helens Chambers Davygate under manager R Dyson.
The lack of enthusiasm from our other companies is perhaps not surprising given the dominance of the Yorkshire in the city. George Hart, who worked for the company from 1935, later recalled being able to walk down Coney Street and know that nearly every shop was insured with them.
When he returned from war service in 1946 space in the St Helen's Square office was no longer sufficient for the headquarters of such a large company. Staff numbers had grown from 15 in 1874 to 80 by 1903 and desk space looked decidedly cramped by the time this photograph was taken in 1952.
By 1964 staff had spilled out into six additional offices in the city and a decision was made to build a new head office at Rougier Street.
At eight storeys high it was the largest office block built in the city since the turn of the century with fantastic views from the roof.
The building's construction used 10,800 square feet of glass and 6,000 cubic yards of concrete. The first floor was specially strengthened and had temperature and humidity control to house the mechanised records department...
and the "electronic computer".
By 1993, having become part of General Accident, staff in York numbered 1300 and another new building "one of the most striking buildings to join the York skyline for more than 20 years" was required. The £14 million building, Wellington Row, was designed to be waterproof up to first floor level and contained submarine doors which could be closed in the event of a flood.
Some of you may be wondering about the David Niven doubles referred to in the title of this blog so I won't keep you in suspense any longer. In 1965, staff member E L T Hunter was closely involved in arrangements for the filming of "Lady L" directed by Peter Ustinov and starring Paul Newman, David Niven and Sophia Loren. Some scenes in the film were being shot on location at Castle Howard which was insured by the company and additional cover had to be taken out for the extra risks involved in having a film crew on the site.
The second (or double) Niven double was board member Lord Bolton, shown in the photograph below. His starring role came in the filming of "Casino Royal" when he stood in for 007, played by Niven, in a grouse shooting scene!