21 Nov 2013
Posted by: Anna Stone
Subjects: Policies and Polkas
This is Charles Edwin Noverre.
Charles was the first of our Noverre dynasty to put insurance before dancing. Leaving his elder brother, Frank William Bianchi Noverre, to run the dancing school; Charles took up an apprenticeship in the Norwich Union Life Office in 1861 at the age of 16 when his father, Frank, was still serving on the board. Seven years later he elected to transfer to the fire society a fact that is recorded in the pages from a (decidedly) rough staff list which appears to have been started in 1855 and is annotated up 1901.
In case you missed him in the list here is a close-up.
Staff registers are patchy in this period and staff appointments don't appear to have been discussed at board level so the first reference I could find for his employment in the fire society was this fragment which appears to record overtime paid to clerks from both societies in 1871.
As you can see, he received £9 12 shillings for his overtime which was a relatively low sum compared to the amounts racked up by his fellow clerks. It may be that his other, more artistic pursuits, as organist and choirmaster at St Stephens meant he had less spare time than some.
His name also appears third from bottom of the left hand column in this register of staff birthdays from 1878.
The next reference I was able to find for Charles came in that invaluable scrapbook which also contained his grandfather's fire policy receipt and the interesting 'Nowhere, Starling and Crow' handbill referred to in my blog on Francis.
The significance of the document is that it lists the order in which the clerks of both societies attended the funeral, in 1875, of Sir Samuel Bignold who had served as secretary of the fire and life societies for the preceding 60 years. By virtue of his length of service Charles was transported to the funeral in coach number 5 and by 1904 was one of few members of staff still working for the society who had also served under Sir Samuel. In a staff magazine article that year he fondly reminisced...
...and revealed that he had tried to emulate Sir Samuel in this respect when he himself joined the ranks of the management.
Although, as you can tell from the selection above, staff records for this period are limited and not particularly informative we know from his obituary in the staff magazine that in 1882 Charles was promoted to Head of the policy and tariff department. In this role, according to a contemporary on the staff, he oversaw every policy written up for the fire society - just as his grandfather had been so closely involved in all the life policies produced half a century before. W Jecks Drane also recalled in this period that...
It is wonderful to have these memoirs of former staff to bring to life the everyday work activities which are not recorded in the formal records of the business. The reference to Charles' problem with writer's cramp is particularly illuminating as it links to a further reference I came across when I searched the records of the Staff Superannuation and Benefit Fund for references to the family. Although the name crops up several times the most informative reference is this from 1885.
As you can see, Charles had visited the doctor provided by the fund after suffering from writer's palsy [cramp]. Prior to this research I had not considered that help with medical expenses was part of the benefits of this fund, although I ought perhaps to have guessed that the 'benefit' in the title meant that it was more than just a staff pension scheme. Looking at the scheme rules it is clear that the sickness benefit actually took precedence over the pension provision.
The records of the scheme give an interesting insight into the health of clerks at head office and the various ailments for which they sought treatment. In the absence of more comprehensive staff registers the superannuation fund committee minutes can, on occasion, be the only evidence of employment. In this instance it is interesting to note that Charles sought a cure for his condition in Germany, and that the trustees of the fund did not feel that this was something they ought to pay for!
The trip to Germany was, sadly, not a success and evidence of his problems with writing appears later in Charles' career when his personal letters were stamped with a polite notice excusing his use of a typewriter.
You can see it better in the close-up.
Despite this disability Charles continued his rise within Norwich Union and in March 1887, only a month after attending this dinner in Norwich,...
...he was appointed manager for the London branch at 50 Fleet Street. The following income tax schedule for 1891 shows his salary by this date was £500 a year (with an additional £336 3s 11d as commission on branch profits).
Further records show that by 1895 Charles was manager for the whole of London on a salary of £700 a year plus commission.
His position guaranteed him a role in celebrations for the centenary of the fire office in 1897. Can you spot him in the 'hat' and 'no hat' versions of this photograph of branch managers and agents at the official celebratory garden party?
He is fifth from the left on the third row back, sporting a monocle.
The photographs below show Charles, without his monocle, surrounded by the managers of the London branches in 1909.
The portraits appeared in the staff magazine and it is through the magazine that the real Charles Noverre comes to life. While official correspondence as London Manager shows him dealing with business and administration...
...in the magazine we see him as a man as well as an insurance official and as someone who was very proud of Norwich Union and his family links to it. The Norwich Union staff magazine, one of the earliest staff publications produced, first appeared, in manuscript form, in 1888. It is an incomparable source for information on the lives and activities of the men, and later women, who worked to build up Norwich Union. Charles contributed an article, on the moral of insurance, to the very first printed issue, an extract of which appears below giving some indication of how he felt about his profession.
He remained an active contributor to the publication even after his retirement providing the editor not only with treatises on insurance topics, such as acetylene gas, and company history, but also fictional tales with titles like "the Muggs of Mugborough, a dream" and "A Christmas Nightmare". Through the magazine we learn about his social life in London...
... and even find out about an accident in 1893 which injured his leg and nearly cost him his life.
Reminiscences by his contemporaries for his obituary in the magazine provide details of his activities outside the office, as a writer of plays and musical scores, and information on his philanthropic work.
His colleague W Jecks Drane recalled help Noverre provided to more junior staff...
...while staff magazine editor, Ernest Felce, wrote:
When Charles retired at the start of 1912 he had completed over 50 years in the service of Norwich Union, a fact which was recorded in the board minutes when the anniversary was reached in 1911.
After his retirement he was to serve, until his death, as chairman of the society's London board. His position on the board is referred to in the letter below which I found in the copy letter book of General Manager, Mr Large, (who appears to have forgotten the change of year).
My research into Charles had no real 'wow' moment such as the thrill of finding the policy for Francis or the promotional envelope addressed to Frank but through the staff magazines and the information they contain I really felt I got to know him, and that I liked him.
Although the journey is nearly over, the links between Norwich Union and the Noverres don't quite end with Charles as tomorrow's blog will reveal.