Our companies have insured many famous names and landmarks over the years, from politicians to poets, authors, painters, impresarios, and secret agents (sort of). Here is just a small selection.
Sir Winston Churchill
Winston Churchill's signature from his accident insurance proposal, 1896
As a young officer in the 4th Queen's Own Hussars, Winston Churchill took out a personal accident policy with the Accident Insurance Company in 1896.
The policy covered accidental death for £1,000 with lesser benefits in the event of disablement.
The annual premium of £6 14s (£6.70) included risks from steeplechasing and other forms of racing, plus travel and temporary residence outside Europe.
In 1958 the directors of Commercial Union, which had acquired the Accident Insurance Company in 1906, wrote to Sir Winston informing him that this was the oldest personal accident policy on the company's books, and would be free of further premium payments.
In his reply, Sir Winston thanked the board "for their most courteous action". He added: "Pray accept my warm thanks for your thought of me, which has given me pleasure".
John F Kennedy
General Accident Philadelphia branch motor insurance poster, 1940s
General Accident provided motor insurance for the Kennedy family until 1972. In the archive we have a copy of a policy for President John F Kennedy taken out in July 1963.
The company also provided motor insurance for his predecessor in the White House, President Dwight D Eisenhower.
Norwich Union poster, 1940s
The best-selling author and creator of detectives Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple took out life insurance with Norwich Union in 1959 under her married name, Agatha Mallowan.
Photograph of the Aston Martin DB5 from Goldfinger, which appeared in the Commercial Union staff magazine in 1971
In 1971 Commercial Union provided insurance for the Aston Martin DB5 driven by Sean Connery as James Bond in the film Goldfinger. The car was purchased by one of the company's agents after it had been “tamed” to standard DB5 specifications. He set about reinstalling the defence mechanisms (including twin Browning machine guns and an ejector seat) before selling it on to an American collector. Insurance for the trip to the US was arranged through Commercial Union and the staff magazine was excited to note that the ignition key was on a CU branded key ring.
Sir Walter Scott
Scottish Union and National promotional calendar featuring Sir Walter Scott, c1904
The Archive includes a policy on the life of the novelist Sir Walter Scott, taken out with the Edinburgh Life Assurance Company in December 1824. Recently revealed endorsements show that in February 1826, in the weeks following his financial ruin, Scott assigned the policy, which was for £2,000, to David Hogarth of Hilton.
Two years later a further endorsement shows that, with the agreement of Hogarth and Scott's trustees, James Jollie and John Gibson, half the policy was assigned to Robert Cadell as manager and trustee of Cadell & Co Booksellers of Edinburgh. The next endorsement refers to the voyage Scott undertook in October 1831 to Malta and Naples on HMS Barham under Captain Arthur Pigot, for which he had to pay an additional premium of 10 shillings. Details of this voyage, organised to improve his failing health, are given in Scott's journal.
Sadly the trip did not restore him to fitness and he returned home to Abbotsford, insured with another Aviva constituent, the Scottish Union Insurance Company, to die on 21 September 1832. The final endorsement on the life policy confirms that the sum of £2,000 was paid to David Hogarth in January 1833.
Copy of the original insurance slip for Titanic showing the initials of Commercial Union's marine underwriter Mr Richard Jones who was prepared to accept a risk of £75,000
Insurance on the Titanic's hull and machinery, though nowhere near covering her full value, was the largest marine insurance ever placed and the Aviva constituent company Commercial Union took the first line of insurance on the underwriting slip, agreeing to accept £75,000 of the total £1,000,000 risk on both the Titanic and her sister ship the Olympic.
Norwich Union Fire promotional calendar, 1887
Norwich Union insured Phineas Taylor Barnum's circus, “The Greatest Show on Earth”, in its winter quarters in Connecticut in 1887 with specified animals including axis deer, gnu, blesbok, emu, sacred bull, and a tapir. The company had also earlier covered his famous elephant, Jumbo (whose name passed into the English language), through a reinsurance policy.
Percy Bysshe Shelley
Declaration for insurance on the life of Percy Shelley, 1814
The poet Percy Shelley’s life was insured with Norwich Union for £3000 in July 1814 by Andrew and George Nash. The original agent’s report for the policy still survives in the archive. It lists William Godwin, father of Shelley’s future wife Mary (author of Frankenstein: or The Modern Prometheus), as one of the people willing to provide references for Shelley’s state of health.
Hand in Hand emblem from calendar, 1904
In 1710 the Hand in Hand insured the house of Robert Walpole, who would become Britain’s first Prime Minister.
He was the first of five British Prime Ministers insured by Aviva companies. In addition to Winston Churchill and The Duke of Wellington, we insured David Lloyd George, who took out a £1,000 life insurance policy with Northern Assurance in 1895, and W E Gladstone, who arranged the fire insurance of his property No.13 Carlton House Terrace London with Scottish Union in October 1840.
The Guinness brewery
Guarantee Society prospectus header, 1840
The Guarantee Society insured staff working at the Guinness brewery in Dublin during the 1880s.
The Duke of Wellington
Hand in Hand fireman's arm badge, 1829
In 1817 Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington, and victor of the Battle of Waterloo, insured his new London home with Hand in Hand. The property, Apsley House at Hyde Park Corner, was also known as No. 1 London, because it was the first house passed by visitors travelling into London via the toll gates at Knightsbridge.
Union Assurance emblem, 1909
Union Assurance insured pictures and drawings in the home of the renowned landscape artist Joseph Mallord William Turner in 1885, the year of his death.
Indemnity Marine headed notepaper, 1954
Indemnity Marine insured Sir Ernest Shackleton’s ship Endurance while exploring in Antarctica. The company provided £1,000 of a total cover of £10,000 on the ship’s hull and machinery. This was the first time a ship had been insured in the ice zone as in previous Antarctic expeditions insurance cover for vessels had stopped at the last port touched. In November 1915 Shackleton was forced to abandon the ship when she began to sink under the ice having been trapped in pack ice since January that year.
Sir Isaac Newton
Hand in Hand fire policy header, 1784
In 1717 the Hand in Hand provided house insurance on a house belonging to Sir Isaac Newton, the Mathematician and Physicist most famous for his law of universal gravitation.
Impression of 17th Century London from staff magazine cover, 1973
The Hand in Hand, which was the UK’s oldest insurer when it was acquired by Commercial Union in 1905, insured many London landmarks over the years. The company insured Guys Hospital in 1724, Theatre Royal Drury Lane in 1725, Lambeth Palace for the Archbishop of Canterbury in 1740, and the British Museum in 1755. The Hand in Hand even insured the temporary London Bridge in May 1758 following a fire, which partially destroyed the original.
In more recent years Commercial Union insured the statue of Eros at Piccadilly Circus, also known as the Shaftesbury Monument, when it was moved for restoration in 1985.