Fire Insurance Objects

The Hand in Hand Fire Mark

This Hand in Hand Fire mark is one of the earliest Fire marks in the country, but the significance of it is much greater.

It measures 8in. (20cm.) wide and is made of lead. It displays the company’s emblem, i.e. two hands shaking, or clutching each other, with a crown above them, and the insurance policy number, 37840, below. The plates were attached to the front of the building at a height so that it could be easily seen, but perhaps also making it difficult for thieves to steal them. They were produced by the company and fixed to the property as soon as possible after the policy was taken out.

Their purpose was for identification, to show that buildings were insured by an insurance company, in this case, the Hand in Hand. There were a number of insurance companies running a fire brigade service, and each company had their own emblems on the plates.

If there was a fire, the company’s fire brigade would arrive and put the fire out. If a fire brigade was faced with a burning building insured by another company, then often there was an agreement where the fire would be put out and that brigade who would be reimbursed by the insuring company.

The Hand in Hand Fire Office 

The Hand in Hand was founded in Tom’s Coffee House in 1696 and was initially operated from two coffee houses. It was one of the first fire insurance companies that was set up in the later 17th century. The company was first known as the Contributors for Insuring Houses, Chambers or Rooms from Loss by Fire, by Amicable Contribution. It was commonly called the Hand in Hand Fire Office, due to company’s emblem. In 1805 it changed its name to the Hand in Hand Contributionship or Society for the Insurance of Houses and Goods from Loss or Damage by Fire.

The Hand in Hand was much like its rivals, except that it was founded on the mutual system and became the forerunner of the co-operative movement. It was enormously popular, issuing 7,313 policies by 1704. By 1715 there were over 29,000 properties insured by the office at a total value over £6m.

The Hand in Hand was the oldest existing UK insurance company when it was acquired by the Commercial Union in 1905.

The Policy

In the Policy Register at Aviva, this policy, 37840, was one of thirteen that John Martin, a gentleman of London, took out on the same day. It was for a “Brick House” on the east side of Bear Lane in the Parish of All Hallows Barking, which was just west of the Tower of London. The entry describes the site of the house, which defines the building covered by the policy, where it is and extends to:

“a brick house situate on the east side of Beare Lane in the parish of St Allhallows Barkin [sic] being the 3rd house northward from Thames Street and part over the passage into Horn Court abutt north on the passage into Gloucester Court and south on the said John Martin in possession of Thomas Banberry”.

The description is quite complex and one can see why fire marks were needed. A fire brigade would find it very difficult, whilst a fire was raging, to interpret which building was in the policy purely by reading this text.

The policy was renewed a few times. In February 1725, it was renewed by Charles Jenner, an apothecary of St Giles in the Fields. Robert Jenner of Inner Temple renewed it on 23 February 1732 and again on 8 February 1737.

Fire marks became a regular feature of street furniture and buildings across Britain during the 18th and 19th centuries. Some original fire marks still exist on buildings today, including those of the Hand in Hand. Many of these marks date later than this one, some are still painted, and some are copies. The Fire Mark Society keeps a register of marks in situ on buildings. Most fire marks are in archive, museum or private collections. This fire mark, reference SR3929 is part of the Hand in Hand records that are now part of the Aviva Group Archive.

With thanks to Anna Stone, Group Archivist, Aviva.

Fire Insurance Objects

August 29th 2022

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