I was inspired to use this headline question by the Daily Telegraph headline on 6 March 2022: “Why is there no Museum of England?” The question was posed by former director of the British Museum, Neil MacGregor, pointing out that Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland have each got one. The article was a precursor to MacGregor’s new series on Radio 4: “The Museums That Make Us.”
I hope you’ve been listening to it and find it as enthralling as his 2010 series: “A History of the World in 100 Objects.”
“There is not anywhere that you can look at the history of England. There isn’t even anywhere obvious to put such a museum beyond London” he says. Nor, indeed, is there anywhere you can look at the history of insurance.
So, why don’t we have an insurance museum? A question I have been posing for the last three years.
Museums tell us much about our past and how it relates to our world today. History, heritage and culture are popular subjects, and you only have to look at TV or social media to see the amount of shows that are produced on such topics. Looking at the past makes us think and talk about our present day and the challenges that we are going to face in the future. For the Insurance Museum, one issue has always been about how the public see the insurance sector. What are their perceptions of it, how do they engage with it? Since the “High Street” broker, and the “Insurance Man” have been replaced by the online market place, human interactions between the public and insurers has certainly diminished.
The Insurance Museum will not only tell the story of insurance through collections and stories, but it will also show the public what insurance does and how it works, leading to a greater public understanding.
Museums also inspire wonder, and only recently at the BIBA conference, we saw how many insurance professionals were amazed by the 19th century fire buckets we had on display as well as the Sun Newsletter from 1713. There is an array of wonderful and inspiring historic items, most of which are in storage facilities, archives, strongrooms, and, quite often, insurance office basements. Why not get them out and put them on display, allowing the public to get close to them and helping children to become inspired with the world of insurance and risk?
I know exactly where the insurance museum should go. EC3 in London: the very heart of the capital’s insurance district. It is where all the major insurance organisations are found, along with fantastic architecture. It is where the first London insurance organisation was established, Edward Lloyd’s Coffee House on Tower Street, by 1688, when reference to insurance dealings there first appeared in the London Gazette. The coffee house moved a few years later, in 1691, to Lombard Street. Do the public realise that there is such a heritage to this area and that a great deal the modern architecture we see now is directly related to the early coffee houses? London EC3 is also where my role model, the fabulous Bank of England Museum, is located.
However, we don’t intend to be London-centric, and we are certainly talking about touring the UK with exhibitions, events and education programmes. The Insurance Museum will tell the story of insurance from around the country, not just the London Market. Perhaps joining up with stories and exhibiting items from local collections will have greater impact on people around the UK.
A lot has happened since the Insurance Museum charity was established in February 2020, but we have not been killed by the Covid pandemic. With the heritage items and archives at our disposal the trustees remain determined to open a “World Class Insurance Visitor and Research Centre” in London EC3.