Norwich Union's Dancing Directors and their Descendants
18 Nov 2013
Posted by: Anna Stone
Subjects: Policies and Polkas
This week archivists throughout the country are coming together with a campaign called Explore your Archive to highlight the astounding variety of material in our collections and to inspire people to explore the amazing items we have worked to collect and keep safe.
I think it is particularly important for Aviva's Archive to be involved in this campaign because the records of business are some of the least explored archives in the country but can be an incredibly rich source for research for everyone from academics to family and local historians. Many people mistakenly believe that the archives of a business will be dull and full of complex technical information or volumes of financial results but no business operates in isolation from the society around it and our history is also the history of the people who worked for us and those who bought our products.
Through the records of the hundreds of companies whose material makes up the Aviva Group Archive we can trace over 300 years of social change and the development of specialist types of insurance in response to those changes. The records also give us glimpses into the everyday lives of communities throughout the United Kingdom and the world and of individuals from kings and poets to manure merchants and false teeth manufacturers.
As our contribution to the Explore Your Archive campaign we have been exploring the many links between Norwich Union and a family of Norwich dancing masters called Noverre.
I'm hoping that through this series of blogs I can share with you the journey of discovery I went on as I delved into our archive in search of the name Noverre. It all started with a pamphlet.
As you can see, the pamphlet appears to have been a sort of early junk mail, perhaps delivered to all the houses within a certain area of Norwich. The pamphlets may have been targeted at the homes of those insuring with Norwich Union Fire Insurance Society which would have been identifiable through the fire marks attached to the outside of the buildings.
Norwich Union customers may well have been the intended recipients as the pamphlet gives details of a meeting in July 1818 about perceived irregularities in the way the society was being run. One of the main thrusts of the argument was that those listed as Trustees, illustrious names such as The Dukes of Somerset, Beaufort and Argyll...
...whose involvement was intended to inspire confidence in the society, were actually not engaged in running the business at all. What caught the eye of a researcher in the archive was this...
... that the Earl of Craven had allowed his name to be used at the request of his family dancing master who was one of the directors of the society. On the following page, listed under the heading 'directors', Francis Noverre of Norwich, Gentleman has a little asterisk by his name...
...which identifies him as the dancing master in question. A quick search of the internet served to straighten out the relationship between Noverre and the Earl of Craven, the two were in fact brother-in-laws, and also added intriguing colour to the link between Norwich Union and the Norwich dancing master.
Francis Noverre was no ordinary dance master; his credentials to undertake such a career were impeccable. His uncle, Jean-Georges Noverre, was a famous dancer reputed to have taught dance to Marie Antoinette and described by theatrical impresario David Garrick as “the Shakespeare of the dance”. Considered by many as the creator of ballet d'action, Jean-Georges is of such importance in the world of dance that his birthday, 29th April, has been adopted as International Dance Day.
Francis’ father, Augustin, was also a dancer of some repute and was described in his obituary as “the most finished, elegant and gentlemanly minuet dancer that ever appeared.” The family’s first links to Norwich are thought to have been forged when Augustin fled to the city in 1755 believing, incorrectly, that he had killed an anti-French protestor who had jumped on to the stage at Drury Lane to attack him while he and his brother were performing.
I was determined to find out more about the family and its links to Norwich Union and my search for the Noverres began. As is often the case with archive research my detective work found both more evidence of their activities than I could have possibly hoped for and tantalising gaps in the records which left many questions unanswered. To find out what I discovered you'll have to read tomorrow's blog.