The Amicable Society was established on July 25 1706 as the Amicable Society for a Perpetual Assurance Office under a charter of Queen Anne and lays claim to being the first mutual life assurance society established in the world.
Amicable Society coat of arms, c1850
The Amicable Society scheme was devised by John Hartley, a bookseller based in Fleet Street, near St. Dunstan's Church. Reverend William Talbot, the then Bishop of Oxford, was among the society's initial supporters. The scheme allowed for a maximum of 2,000 society members to pay a set annual contribution of £6 4s each. Anyone between the ages of 12 and 45 was eligible to join and, at the end of each year, the contributions, less running costs, were to be divided between representatives of members who had died during the year.
While primarily designed to ensure that the widows and children of members were provided for in the event of a member's death, the society was also eligible to provide members with annuities. Contemporary papers encouraged prospective members to:
enquire at the Cheshire Cheeze, in Flower de Luce Court, Fleet Street. -
In 1716, the company moved offices for the third time. By this time, the "serpent and dove" had been established as the symbol of the society. The symbol was carved above the doors of the new offices so that, at a time when many would not be able to read, members could still find the office.
In 1807, the society obtained a new charter to broaden its aims and adopt the improved methods used by rival offices. Under the new charter, premiums were no longer subject to a set price but varied depending on the age and circumstances of the member. The society was allowed to grant annuities and the number of members increased to 8,000, having been raised to 4,000 in 1790. The society applied to change its charter again in 1823 to allow for 16,000 members and, in 1836, to increase that number to 32,000 members.
In 1864, the directors, feeling that progress was hampered by the proscriptions of the charters, began to search for a more progressive company to take over its funds and liabilities. Their search came to an end in 1866, when an act of parliament was obtained allowing the society to amalgamate with the Norwich Union Life Insurance Society.
|1706||The Amicable Society for a Perpetual Assurance Office is established|
|1790||Membership allowance increases to 4,000|
|1807||The society obtains a new charter|
|1823||Membership allowance increases to 16,000|
|1836||Membership allowance increases to 32,000|
|1866||The society is acquired by the Norwich Union Life Insurance Society|
Did you know...?
- In 1706, the society purchased a formidable "Iron Chest", which was used to keep premiums until they were required for the payment of claims or were made available for investment. The chest continued to be used for the storage of valuables until 1768, when a strong room was built. In 1776, the society opened its first bank account with Gosling, Clive & Gosling Bankers, later part of Barclays.
- Investments mentioned in the minutes of the society included Malt Tallies, Mine Adventure Bonds, Hollow Sword Blade Bonds and Tickets in State Lotteries. In 1719, the society "invested" £936 5s in lottery tickets, which were locked up in the chest. Another popular investment of this period was South Sea stock. The society was among many, including government ministers, who were caught out when the bubble burst in 1720-1721. The failed investment cost the society £13,000.
- In 1730, the register of the society (equivalent to a general manager) absconded with some society funds. The board offered a reward of £200, describing the transgressor as: "a short fatt man very full faced ruddy and pock fretten... he wears a light brown wig". This was not the first time a member of staff had attempted to defraud the society. During the society's early years, one of the clerks embezzled nearly £1,700. Hartley felt bound to make good the amount, which he did by selling the society £250 of his salary. As a result he received only £50 for his services that year. In May 1713, the treasurer of the society, Mr. Charles Higg, was found to have embezzled £6,500 and, in 1724, one of the clerks, Mr. Richard Bayly (or Baily) was found guilty of falsifying information relating to members. The clerk allowed a number of people who were not of the right age or were already very ill to become members and, using accomplices, made claims on the society for the subsequent deaths.
- Given the above, perhaps it is not so surprising to learn that the society's accounts for 1795-1796 were prepared by an accomptant (accountant) who was at that time a resident of the Fleet prison.
Subsidiaries and constituents*
|1721 - 1745||Brotherly Society of Annuitants|
* Please note the first date given is the date of the establishment of the company and the second date is the date the company was acquired or became a subsidiary. Where only one date is given the company was established as a subsidiary of the parent company. Where one date is preceded by a hyphen the date of the establishment of the company is not known.
Head office premises
Amicable Society's Office at Sergeant's Inn London, nd
|1706 - 1709||Fleet Street, near St Dunstan's church, London|
|1709 - 1711||Fleet Street, between the two gates of Temple, London|
|1711 - 1716||Corner of Dean Street and Fetter Lane, London (insured by Hand In Hand)|
|1716 - 1737||"A very proper and convenient House 12 doors below the Globe Tavern in Hatton Garden"|
|1737 - 1852||Hall and chapel in Sergeants Inn, Fleet Street, London (£44 rent per annum. New offices were built on the site in 1792)|
|1852 - 1866||50 Fleet Street, London|
Staff and officials
|1706 - 1713 at least||John Hartley|
|c1730 - 1748||Mr Michael|
|1748 - 1768||Mr Pye|
|1768 - 1800||Joseph Baldwin (acting register from 1764)|
|1800 - 1833||John Pensam|
|1833 - c1852||Thomas Galloway|
|by 1852 - 1866||Henry Thomas Thomson|
|- 1870||Peter Cunningham|
The original clerks in 1706 were Thomas Hodgson and Luke Meriton
Amicable Society logo, 1802
- The Hon Frederick Byng
- John Ebenezer Davies
- Cobbet Derby
- Welbore Ellis
- William Everett
- Richard Henry Goolden MD
- John Hodgson
- Sir William Magnay
- Serjeant Merewether
- John Round
- The Right Hon Sir E Ryan
- Theophilius Thompson MD
In the archive
The Aviva archive contains records relating to the running of the Amicable Society from 1706 to 1895. The collection includes charters and acts of parliament, claims registers, share registers, cash books, correspondence, journals, policies, ledgers, board minutes, referee's letters [letters written by friends and doctors attesting to the age and state of health of those wishing to become members], annual accounts, prospectuses, lists of members and receipt books.