On 7 September 2022, the Insurance Museum will launch its first online exhibition, Fire! Risk and Revelations, focusing on how fire insurance first came about. Covering 250 years of history, the exhibition will launch four galleries throughout the autumn, each focusing on a different era.
The first gallery, Rising from the Ashes will tell the story of the birth of fire insurance in the 1680s. Fire insurance became active in the UK because of the Great Fire of London back in 1666, which destroyed 13,200 houses and made around 80,000 people homeless. Even though London would be built differently with more resilient buildings of less flammable materials, fire would always be a risk. Nicolas Barbon, an entrepreneur and property developer, saw a chance to make money. He proposed to charge people a premium that would insure their property against fire. We believe he founded the Insurance Office for Houses at the rear of the Royal Exchange in 1667, which he managed through to 1680, when it took on more partners, and became recast as the Fire Office, later known as the Phenix Office [sic]. If there was a fire, Barbon’s insurance company would try to extinguish the fire with its own insurance fire brigade of waterman.
The exhibition will explore this story of Barbon’s first insurance company, through to the early 20th century within the unfolding online galleries. The galleries will look at the early “start-up” insurance companies, including the Hand in Hand, the expansion of the fire offices into the provinces, as well as the changes that were brought about by insurance companies and other people involved, such as James Braidwood.
Along with the stories of the events, people and places, the online exhibition will offer the chance to delve into collections and learn about the items on show: what they are, where they come from, how they were used, and who owns them now.
Fire! Risk and Revelations will be launched on 7 September, the anniversary date of when the Great Fire of London came to an end in 1666 and when people started to think about the rebuilding of London.
To view the first gallery from the Fire! Risk and Revelations exhibition, please click below.