19 Nov 2013
Posted by: Anna Stone
Subjects: Policies and Polkas
This is Francis Noverre...
...son of Augustin (who reputedly fled to Norwich thinking he'd killed someone) and nephew of Jean-Georges "the Shakespeare of the dance". Francis ran a dancing school in the Assembly Rooms in Norwich and was an early director of Norwich Union Fire. Although he is not listed on the original deed of settlement he certainly joined the board fairly soon after its establishment and is listed as a director in the supplementary deed of 1805 - can you spot his name on the third line?
The original is so large that the blog image is not really legible so here is a close-up.
Research into the early records of the Norwich Union Fire Society also reveals that Noverre was a 'member' of the society, in other words a person whose property was insured against fire by Norwich Union. The list of members below dates from around 1802.
This next list of members, from 1806, shows increasing sophistication of presentation (I love the engraving) and demonstrates the growth of the business even over a few years. Among Noverre's fellow 'Ns' now appear members from as far afield as Yorkshire and Leicestershire.
Sadly, the early records of the fire society are sparse and we have no surviving board minutes to show evidence of Francis attending meetings and no policy registers to give us details about the property he insured. The frustration of gaps in surviving records is as much a part of using archives as the unexpected thrill of finding something you were not even looking for, such as the fact that one of our very few surviving early fire policies turned out to have actually been signed by Francis.
As you can see from a close-up of the policyholder's details...
...by the time policy 46349 was issued in 1814 the business of Norwich Union Fire had continued to spread far beyond the predominantly local members listed a decade earlier. By this date, Francis and his fellow directors were considering insurance on property as far afield as Blackburn and beyond. Indeed, by 1817 the society boasted 80,000 members (whom they could presumably no longer afford to list), 500 agents across the country and annual premium income of £78,800.
Another unexpected find in the archive collection was this receipt, for Noverre's own fire policy in 1820...
... which had been stuck into a scrapbook of sundry, odd Norwich Union material. Also in the scrapbook was another reference to Noverre, which I very nearly didn't spot.
Did you see him? His name is carefully hidden in this section of the document with, appropriately enough, a dancing link.
Nowhere, Starling and Crow are billed as performing a pas de trios, in what I initially assumed to be a nice piece of entertainment for the Norwich Union Life Society staff. I fondly pictured the three respectable members of the board (Francis Noverre, John Starling Day and John Crowe) putting together the dance (obviously choreographed by Noverre) to the delight of those who had been working hard writing policies and keeping the books.
Sadly, this was only a fantasy as a closer look revealed that the document was another piece of ingenious propaganda made to look like a contemporary theatre handbill. Intrigued, I searched the archive for explanations to some of the references in the handbill, in which no individual is specifically referred to by name. The gist of the document is that at an upcoming general meeting of the Norwich Union Life Society master Sammy (Samuel Bignold) would perform 'hocus pocus' to make the society appear solid, successful and well run - a view with which the writer of the handbill evidently disagreed. The major thrust of his complaint seems to be to do with the board and how the society was effectively being run by three directors rather than the twelve specified in the deed of settlement. Furthermore, the three 'dancers' Noverre, Starling Day and Crowe who were making all the decisions were all under Bignold's control or, in the words of the anonymous writer, "live, move and have their being at the command of Sammy".
Frustratingly, the minutes of the board for 1835 make no reference to any discontent within the society or to protests by outside forces so I cannot discover who produced the handbill. It is possible that there were links to local political divisions as Bignold was a prominent member of the local conservative Orange and Purple Party. Records of board meetings that year, like that for the June 22nd meeting below, certainly support the view that attendance of all 12 directors at meetings was rare and that Noverre, Day and Crowe were overseeing the bulk of the society's business.
The Noverre name crops up again in minutes for the 30th of July meeting referred to in the handbill. The minutes tell us that Francis was chair at the meeting but give no suggestion of any potential discontent with the management.
It quickly became clear that links between Francis and Norwich Union Life Society were more numerous in the archival record than those of his relationship with the fire society. Francis was one of the original signatories to the life society's deed of settlement...
...he was the second person to sign the deed.
As you can see in the close-up...
... his name appears directly above that of Alexander Thwaites, the man who had the honour of taking out the society's first life policy in July 1808.
I was really hoping that Francis had taken out a life policy too, and a search of the board minutes for the period shortly after his death in January 1840 revealed that he had taken out policy number 8 which paid out a total of £1280 18 shillings, including bonuses.
A policy number is the key to unlock the fascinating series of life policy records we hold in the archive and with it I was quickly able to find the original proposal document completed by Francis when he took out his policy in 1808. Although listed for appearances sake as a gentleman in company literature, he completed his proposal giving his occupation as dancing master. Other details given include his place, month and year of birth and confirmation of his physical fitness declaring that he had had measles and whooping cough and not suffered with spitting of blood or gout. The proposal also required him to give the names of a doctor and two friends who could further vouch for his temperance and suitability as a life assurance candidate.
The questions asked of these persons nominated as "referees" can be found in another series of records we hold in the archive. In these volumes, under policy Number 8, I found the original enquiries sent out a week later to James Nosworthy (fellow director and Norwich silversmith)...
...R M Bacon (husband of Noverre's sister Louisa and editor of the Norwich Mercury ),...
...and Edward Rigby (Noverre's family doctor).
The volume also contains their completed response forms.
As you can see, the information required to assess the health of an individual in 1808 is fairly basic compared with what would be needed today and it is interesting to see the difference between the letter sent to the 'medical person' and that sent to Noverre's friends. I also really like the last paragraph "should you return this letter without any answer we shall understand the hint and decline the insurance." Fortunately, Francis Noverre was considered a suitable candidate for life assurance and his details duly appeared in the first ever policy register.
The close-up reveals some other recognisable names on the list, such as Thomas Bignold (founder of Norwich Union Fire and Life Societies) and Noverre's two friends James Nosworthy and Richard Bacon. It also tells us that even some of the earliest policies were taken out by people as far afield as Birmingham and Coventry. As with other policy registers held in the archive, it is interesting look down the column for occupations listed, where Noverre's 'dancing master' stands out among the more sober bankers, wool factors, linen drapers and clergymen.
To find all this evidence of Noverre as a customer of Norwich Union was as much as I could have hoped for but I also unearthed an unexpected additional treasure. Whilst looking through old policies for examples of his signature as a director, I came across his own policy.
Issued on the second of August and signed by fellow directors James Roper (Woollen Draper), William Bacon (Coach Maker) and James Nosworthy, the policy is the final piece in the paper trail of Francis Noverre the customer.
As you can see, it has been held together over the years with Sellotape which has kept it in one piece but stained the paper (and made it very sticky!). As a result of the Noverre research this policy, and others in the same volume, will be conserved to ensure they survive for another 200 years. To see the magic that conservation can work, it is worth having a look at the 'before' and 'after' scans of the handbill I referred to earlier in this blog.
The collection of life policies, along with the board minutes, show Francis Noverre was closely involved in the business of the life society. His attendance at board meetings meant he regularly helped make decisions on which proposals should be accepted and on the payment of claims. As the images below show, Francis was a member of the board which declined to pay out after the suspicious death of poet Percy Shelley (whose links with the society were the subject of an earlier blog).
Francis continued his involvement with Norwich Union Life Society even after his retirement, in 1837, from his dancing school. The last policy in the collection to be signed by him is dated April 1839, less than a year before he died.
Listed among the directors on that policy is one Frank Noverre, about whom you can discover more in my next blog.