Twelve Days of Christmas
05 Jan 2017
Tom and I thought we’d use the festive period as an excuse to share some images and stories from the archive (very) loosely connected to the twelve days of Christmas. It was actually much harder than we thought – there are a lot of birds in the song and not many in the archive but we’ve done our best…
On the first day of Christmas the archive gave to me…
A ROBIN IN AN OAK TREE
This image is taken from a prospectus cover produced by the City of Glasgow Life Assurance Company in 1909. The company had taken as its logo the coat of arms of the City of Glasgow which features symbols associated with Saint Mungo (also known as Saint Kentigern). The logo comprises an oak tree (representing a frozen hazel branch that the saint caused to burst into flame), a wild robin (which he is said to have brought back to life), a fish with a ring in its mouth, and a bell.
As we have replaced partridges with robins, here is another robin story from the archive; in 1950 the Employers’ Liability Assurance Company’s staff magazine wrote about a friendly exchange between the company and one of its policyholders:
“Mr. X, of Market Harborough, reported that robins had built a nest in the dashboard of his car, and that the hen sat on her five eggs throughout a thirty mile business trip. We confirmed that the passenger risk was covered, but that the eggs could not have been considered to come within the terms ‘rugs, coats and luggage’.”
Robins (or to be more accurate, Robbins) also featured in the Norwich Union Christmas card in 1949. A portrait of fireman Robbins, who ran the company’s London fire brigade between 1808 and 1818, was reproduced inside the card – we still have the original portrait in the archive today.
Fireman Robbins of the Norwich Union fire brigade
On the second day of Christmas the archive gave to me…
TWO TURTLE NECKS
We couldn’t find two turtle doves but I really like this photograph of members of General Accident’s staff looking distinctly unimpressed with the latest computer terminal in the 1970s. I think two of the ladies are definitely wearing turtle necks but in case anyone feels the necks should be higher, here are two more: the first is from a proposal cover produced by Sun Life in 1968 and the second from a 1973 Norwich Union staff recruitment advertisement - I love the fact that they were trying to attract new female staff with promises of good pay and discos.
On the third day of Christmas the archive gave to me…
THREE FRENCH ADS
We are short on hens in the archive but we do have quite a few advertisements from our branches and companies in France.
The top image is from a 1930s advertising flyer for the Travellers’ Insurance Company advising travellers to insurance their luggage and featuring the company’s bulldog logo. The second was produced by the Yorkshire Insurance Company in about 1925 to advertise that company’s livestock insurance in France. The final ad belongs to our French constituent company La Paix and dates from 1960.
I can also offer you a number of French claims (well claims in French) from a prospectus produced, by the Scottish Accident Insurance Company, for Guernsey in 1890. My French is a little rusty but the list seems to include injuries caused by washing knives, falling off horses, slipping down stairs and cutting toe nails.
If you would like to read about more accident claims then you might enjoy my blog on accident insurance.
On the fourth day of Christmas the archive gave to me…
FOUR LOGO BIRDS
Although we don’t have any ‘colly’ or black birds in the archive we do have a number of other birds in the logos of various past group companies. The first image is the dove and serpent logo of the Amicable Society, Aviva’s oldest life constituent, which was established in 1706. In 1716, when the company moved to new premises on the corner of Dean Street and Fetter Lane London, the image was carved above the doors of the new offices so that members could find the Amicable Society even if they were unable to read the name.
The second logo is the ‘bird in the hand’ which belonged to the Lancashire Reversionary Interest Company. The logo relates to the proverb ‘A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush’ because the company’s business was to provide finance for people who had expectations of an inheritance but didn’t want to wait for the money.
The stylish peacock logo belongs to the Arbuthnot Latham Bank and my favourite bird logo is the New Zealand Insurance Company logo which, aptly enough, features kiwi birds.
We’ve got plenty of other interesting logos in the archive including bulldogs, bees and bison – to find out more about them have a look at my blog.
On the fifth day of Christmas the archive gave to me…
FIVE GOLD RINGS (although they are not very easy to spot and they might not all be gold).
The top image, with a man wearing a wedding ring, is a Norwich Union poster from the 1960s. The second image, where you might just about be able to spot the woman's wedding ring, is from a Sun Life proposal from circa 1939.
The fortune teller with her gold earing is from an advertisement produced by Norwich Union in 1935 to encourage women to take out pensions rather than waiting for tall dark strangers to provide for them.
Finally, the glamorous widow and the montage of photographs are from promotional material created by Sun Life again, this time in the 1960s. The ring in the final image is really hard to spot so here is a close up which makes it (slightly) easier.
We also have plenty of stories in the archive about our insurance of rings and other jewellery over the years: in 1885 Scottish Accident paid a personal accident claim for £7 to a journalist from Manchester who cut his forehead on a lady's brooch, while in 1958 General Accident paid a claim for a watch which was eaten out of a coat pocket by a horse looking for sugar lumps.
In 1928 a member of Norwich Union's Aberdeen branch staff spent three days combing a remote and boggy moor in search of a £3,500 pearl necklace which had been lost by a policyholder on a shooting expedition, against the odds he succeeded in finding it and returning it to its owner. You can read more about his exploits at the end of this blog which I wrote on our links to Aberdeen.
I almost thought of making this about the 5 Olympic rings - if you want to read about past Olympians on our staff then click here to read my blog.
On the sixth day of Christmas the archive gave to me…
6 FOUNDATION STONES A LAYING
No geese I’m afraid but we went with the ‘laying’ theme and have picked out a few photographs taken at foundation stone laying ceremonies for some of our companies’ offices.
The top two images were taken at the foundation stone laying ceremony for General Accident’s new building on the corner of High Street and Tay Street, Perth in 1899. The stone was officially laid by Lady Georgina Home Drummond and it contained a time capsule bottle which enclosed, amongst other things, contemporary newspapers, a history of the company, and a portraits of Lady Home Drummond, Lady Moncreiffe, the directors, secretary, and manager of the company.
The next images date from 1907 and show the laying of the foundation stone for part two of the North British and Mercantile’s head office at 64 Princes Street Edinburgh. The company caused a slight headache for the architect, J M Dick-Pedie, by insisting that work take place in two phases so staff could continue to occupy one part of the site until the first half of the new building was ready. Work started in 1903 and part one was completed in 1905. One contemporary description marvelled at the use of luxifer glass windows in the basement making it "so light that on a bright day print can be read at a distance of about 100ft." Other modern conveniences included electric light, a telephone, and lamson tubes used to transmit documents between departments.
Our final two images belong to Norwich Union; the penultimate picture shows the foundation stone laying ceremony for Surrey House in Norwich, which is still the home of the archive today, while the last image is of Sir Robert Bignold laying the foundation stone for the new Norwich Union Norwich Island Site offices in 1958. The ceremony was also captured in a film celebrating the 150th anniversary of the society – you can follow the link to the film here.
We didn’t manage to find any foundation stone laying ceremonies for Northern Assurance buildings but apparently, in architectural circles in the early 20th century, that company had a reputation for bringing bad luck to those designing its offices. Architects who designed buildings for the Northern invariably came to grief - the architect appointed to design their London office died before completion and his associate who replaced him was also seized by an illness from which he never recovered. The architects of their buildings in Dublin, Manchester, Glasgow and Newcastle also all died only a few years after the buildings were completed!
On the seventh day of Christmas the archive gave to me…
SEVEN SWANS A SWIMMING…
Well, not exactly swans but lady staff from the Sun Life office performing a synchronised swimming, or water ballet, routine as part of the company’s annual swimming gala in 1956 (I personally think the lady nearest on the left is letting her team down a bit).
Sun Life was one of a number of our companies to run annual swimming competitions for staff and its gala included fancy dress races, where teams from various branches and departments swam against each other in costume, with themes such as pirates or mobsters.
Anyone who followed the link to my Olympic blog will also know that we even had an Olympic swimmer on our staff: Miss Fearne Ewart of Commercial Union represented Great Britain in the pool in the 100m freestyle and 4 x 100m freestyle relay at the Melbourne Olympics of 1956.
On the eighth day of Christmas the archive gave to me…
EIGHT MAIDS FOR MILKING
We failed to find any milk maids but we do have lots of great images of cows.
The top image features two cows and a bull and was used on a proposal cover for the Canadian branch of Yorkshire Insurance in the 1950s while the rather sinister disembodied bovine head is on a poster produced by Yorkshire Insurance in around 1960 warning about the dangers of electrocution.
The friendly cow with the bell around her neck appeared on a 1955 leaflet promoting the General Accident caravan which appeared at livestock shows around the country to sell insurance to farmers. The last four of our cows are in another General Accident image; this time from a claim form received by the company in 1964 after a car belonging to one of their policyholders was damaged by a cow.
We’ve also got this lovely exchange of letters featuring cow puns, from the Norwich Union staff magazine, after a mix up for a quote to repair another car damaged by a cow in 1974.
If you would like to read more stories about animals insured by our companies click here to read my blog on livestock insurance.
On the ninth day of Christmas the archive gave to me…
NINE LADIES DANCING
Finally one we can actually do easily – we were spoiled for choice with images of ladies dancing.
The top two pictures show four ladies from General Accident’s Birmingham branch dancing at their Christmas party in 1960. The next image features Miss Vera Hill (and a friend) dancing the ‘Duke of Perth’ at General Accident’s Portsmouth branch dance in 1961 and below that a lady from the Bradford branch attempts a can can at another General Accident party the same year.
The lady with the beehive and the mini-dress is enjoying a Norwich Union Christmas party in 1970 while the final two ladies are taken from an illustration in a Union Assurance Society annual dinner programme from 1882. You can find out more about what went on at the Union annual dinners in my blog.
On the tenth day of Christmas the archive gave to me…
TEN LORDS NOT LEAPING
We have plenty of lords in the archive but we have failed to find any in the act of leaping (although that isn’t to say they didn’t leap about when they weren’t busy sitting on the boards of insurance companies).
The first picture, showing General Accident’s board in 1960, contains no less than 5 Lords: Lord Polwarth, Lord Hacking, Lord Lambert, Lord Sinclair of Cleeve and Lord Stuart of Findhorn.
The sixth of our lords is Lord Knollys who was photographed, glass in hand, at a staff cocktail party during a visit to the Canadian office of Employers’ Liability Assurance in 1952.
Our next two lords were both Chairmen of Railway Passengers Assurance (the first ever accident insurer), firstly Lord Kinnaird who was chairman from 1873 to 1882 and then the less avuncular looking Lord Lawrence of Kingsgate who was chairman between 1911 and 1927.
Lord number nine is Lord Airlie, the imposing kilted figure on the right of the fifth image, while our final Lord is Lord Shaftesbury who was chairman of Aviva constituent company the Artizans’, Labourers’ and General Dwellings Company Ltd which was established in 1867 to build homes for the industrious poor.
We have another link to the philanthropist Lord Shaftesbury; Commercial Union insured the statue of Eros at Piccadilly Circus, which was erected in his honour and is also known as the Shaftesbury Monument, when it was moved for restoration in 1985.
On the eleventh day of Christmas the archive gave to me…
ELEVEN PIPERS PIPING
OK, so there aren’t eleven pipers actually in the picture but if you follow this link you will be able to watch the film of General Accident’s 1935 jubilee celebrations where there are definitely at least 11 pipers piping.
On the twelfth day of Christmas the archive gave to me…
TWELVE DRUMMERS DRUMMING
Those who followed the link yesterday will know that these slightly blurry drummers (and yet more ladies dancing) can be found in the 1935 General Accident film – here is the link again for anyone who wants to see it.
We hope you have enjoyed seeing films and images from the archive and reading some of the wonderful stories it contains.
We will be sharing more blogs from the archive throughout the year so keep an eye out - the history of insurance is full of surprises.