Friends Life Assurance Society Limited
The company was originally called the Sun Life Assurance Society and was established in London in 1810 as a sister company to the Sun Fire Office. It was acquired by Aviva with the Friends Life Group in 2015.
Sun Life pamphlet cover, 1911
The company was established by the directors of the Sun Fire Office in April 1810 to allow them to expand into the life assurance market. Space was found for the new company in the head office of the Sun Fire and the first policy, for £2000 on the life of Thomas Bibbins, was written in June.
The company’s first actuary, and only member of staff for the first 18 months, was Joshua Milne. His work on the valuation of annuities and life assurance based on the Carlisle tables of mortality was published in 1815 and revolutionised actuarial science, leading to the introduction of new life assurance rates that were still in use nearly a century later.
In 1900 the company’s general manager, Ernest Linnell, decided to offer life assurance without the need for medical examination. Non-medical insurance, as this was called, was introduced against the advice of the company’s actuaries but proved a successful and pioneering move: the company later claimed it as the ‘greatest innovation in the history of life assurance’.
The move into non-medical and monthly premium (or industrial life) insurance was supported with direct marketing campaigns in which up to 20,000 advertising circulars a week were sent out to private residents, agents and policyholders. In 1911 the company issued 1,856,116 copies of a pamphlet entitled ‘The First Decade of the 20th Century’, which generated just under 14,000 enquiries from potential customers.
In 1965 the company’s association with the Sun Fire Office ended when Sun Alliance acquired its own life office, London Assurance. To allow it to continue working with a general office Sun Life established a general insurance subsidiary, the Household and General Insurance Company, but this was sold to Sun Alliance in 1972.
In 1996 Sun Life became part of the AXA Group and in 2010 became part of Friends Life, when Axa’s UK life business merged with Friends’ Provident. The company’s name changed to Friends Life Assurance Society Ltd in 2011.
|1810||The company is established|
|1963||The company is registered as a limited company|
|1981||The company becomes a public limited company|
|1996||The company becomes part of the AXA Group|
The company becomes part of Friends Life when Axa’s UK life business merges with Friends' Provident
|2011||Name changes to Friends Life Assurance Society Ltd|
|2015||Friends Life Group is acquired by Aviva|
Did you know...?
Sun Life photograph of control panel for first computer PCC, 1959
- In January 1838 the company turned down a request for life assurance from the author Charles Dickens. The event was noted in his diary: “Went to the Sun Office to insure my life, where the Board seemed disposed to think I work too much.”
- The company’s Director, William Huskisson MP has the unenviable claim to fame of being the first person killed in a railway accident. He was at the opening of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway 15 September 1830 and was hit by Stephenson's Rocket having got out of his train to stretch his legs.
- In 1854 Dr William Palmer took out a Sun Life policy for £5,000 on his wife Ann, who died later the same year. In 1856 Dr Palmer, who the press called the Rugeley Poisoner or the Prince of Poisoners, was hanged for poisoning his friend John Cook. It was strongly suspected that Palmer had murdered several others, including Ann, and the company minutes made a note that more checks needed to be made before accepting risks on the wives of medical men.
- The company’s medical officer between 1859 and 1863 was William Gull – later Sir William Gull. He was doctor to both Queen Victoria and the then Prince of Wales. He was the first to name and describe anorexia nervosa and was an expert on quadriplegia.
- In the 1970s, the name of Sir William Gull, the company’s medical officer, was also listed as a possible candidate to be Jack the Ripper: the notorious, unidentified, Whitechapel murderer of 1888.
- In 1940, 8 of the company’s staff were killed when a parachute mine scored a direct hit on East Hall near Orpington, to which some of the company’s operations had been evacuated.
- In 1958 the company used a computer to calculate the bonuses for the first time, saving them an estimated 2,500 man hours. The first computer was a Powers-Samas Programme Controlled Computer, called the PCC for short.
- In 1965 the company accepted a proposal on the life of John Winston Lennon.
Subsidiaries (to 1985) and constituents*
|1845 - 1890||Sovereign Life Assurance Company|
|1891||Sun Life Assurance Company of India Ltd|
|1854 - 1892||Briton Medical and General Life Association Ltd|
|1824 - 1904||Patriotic Assurance Company of Dublin (life business)|
|1965||Household and General Insurance Company Ltd|
|1973||Sun Life Pensions Management Ltd|
|1970 - 1976||Sun Life Charterhouse Unit Assurance Company Ltd|
|1867 - 1976||Artagen Properties Ltd|
|1978 - 1980||Sun Life Unit Services Ltd|
|1844 - 1997||Axa Equity and Law Life Assurance Society plc|
* 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 (known as Chief Office)
|1810 - 1843||Bank Buildings, London|
|1843 - 1958||63 Threadneedle Street, London|
|1958 - 2004 (at least)||107 Cheapside, London|
|1977 - 1996||Sun Life Court, St James Barton Bristol|
|1996 -||Sun Life Centre, Brierly Furlong, Stoke Gifford, Bristol|
Staff and officials
|1890 - 1894||Harris Charter Lindon Saunders (also general manager and actuary)|
|1894 - 1928||Ernest Linnell (also general manager)|
|1928 - 1935||Richard George Salmon (also general manager and actuary)|
|1935 - 1941||Julius Rietchel (also general manager and actuary)|
|1941 - 1949||Herbert Horace Edwards (also general manager)|
|1949 - 1958||Stephen Lawrence Mears|
|1958 - 1960||W H Oughton|
|1961 - 1968||S Winhall|
|1968 - 1973||L C T Cottrell|
|1973 - 1976||Richard F C Zamboni|
|1976 - 1984||W J Amos|
|1985 - 1990 at least||John D Webster|
Principal Officer (later General Manager or Managing Director)
|1810 - 1844||Joshua Milne (also actuary from 1820)|
|1844 - 1863||Charles Henry Lidderdale (also actuary)|
|1863 - 1870||James Harris (also actuary)|
|1870 - 1890||John George Priestley (also actuary)|
|1890 - 1894||Harris Charter Lindon Saunders (also secretary and actuary)|
|1894 - 1928||Ernest Linnell (also secretary)|
|1928 - 1935||Richard George Salmon (also secretary and actuary)|
|1935 - 1941||Julius Rietchel (also secretary and actuary)|
|1941 - 1949||Herbert Horace Edwards (also secretary)|
|1949 - 1959||Reginald Murrell (also actuary)|
|1959 - 1963||Stephen Lawrence Mears|
|1963 - 1967||Jack Westcott (also actuary)|
|1967 - 1975||Kenneth Aslet (also actuary)|
|1975 - 1976||Lawrence Cottrell|
|1976 - 1988 at least||Richard F C Zamboni|
|by 1990||J Reeve|
|by 1996||A L Owen|
|1810 - 1844||Joshua Milne (also principal officer)|
|1844 - 1863||Charles Henry Lidderdale (also principal officer)|
|1863 - 1870||James Harris (also principal officer)|
|1870 - 1890||John George Priestley (also principal officer)|
|1890 - 1894||Harris Charter Lindon Saunders (also general manager and secretary)|
|1894 - 1905||Richard Sewell|
|1905 - 1935||Richard George Salmon (also secretary and general manager from 1928)|
|1935 - 1941||Julius Rietchel (also general manager and secretary)|
|1941 - 1959||Reginald Murrell (also general manager from 1949)|
|1958 - 1964||Jack Westcott (joint actuary first with Murrell then with Aslet)|
|1959 - 1975||Kenneth Aslet (joint actuary to 1967)|
|1975 - 1990 at least||Peter Bairstow|
|by 1996||P N S Clark|
Sun Life prospectus cover, 1910
Sun Life booklet cover, c 1951
The Hon. Philip Pleydell Bouverie
Thomas Dorrien jnr.
Charles Bell Ford
Rt. Hon. William Huskisson MP
Charles Shaw Lefevre
The Hon. Hugh Lindsay MP
Sun Life dinner menu cover, 1925
Sun Life proposal cover, 1957
- Westminster, London (1872)
- Edinburgh (1881)
- Bristol (1881)
- Birmingham (1882)
- Leeds (1883)
- Oxford Street, London (1884)
- Liverpool (1884)
- Glasgow (1884)
- Edinburgh (1884)
- Newcastle (1884)
- Exeter (1885)
- Charring Cross, London (1886)
- Law Courts, Chancery Lane, London (1889)
- Manchester (1888)
- Nottingham (1890)
- Portsmouth (1891)
- Fenchurch Street, London (1896)
- Mincing Lane, London (1896)
- Aberdeen (1898)
- Newport (1899)
- South London, Newington Causeway (1901)
- North London, Upper Street Islington (1901)
- East London, High Street Stratford (1901)
- Hull (1901)
- Sheffield (1903)
- West London, Hammersmith Road (1903)
- Ipswich (1905)
- Plymouth (1906)
- Cardiff (1906)
- Blackburn (1907)
- Brighton (1909)
- Kingston (1910)
- Croydon (1910)
Sun Life booklet cover, c 1914
- Spain (1881)
- Dublin, Ireland (1884)
- Cape Town, South Africa (1883)
- Antwerp, Belgium (1884)
- Mannheim, Germany (1885)
- Alexandria, Egypt (1886)
- Constantinople (Istanbul),Turkey (1886)
- Hamburg, Germany (1887)
The Sun Life Story, 1810 – 1985 by Jack Minnitt. Sun Life Assurance Society,1985
In the archives
The Aviva archive contains records relating to the running of Friends Life Assurance Society Ltd between 1810 and 1996. The collection includes: annual reports and accounts; salary books; staff magazines; medical officers’ comments books; life policy registers; completed policies; staff training records; sponsorship material; actuarial reports; new business books; material relating to computer systems; advertising and promotional material; and photographs of staff, officials, branches and events.