Fire Insurance

2005/04 pp3–4

 

Fire insurance

 

When property owners made out policies to insure their homes and businesses, they left a wealth of detail for the benefit of future historians. Fire insurance offices were established in Surrey from the early eighteenth century, and their records continue to be of value well into the 1860s. The most comprehensive records are kept at the Guildhall in London, where they have a series of fire policy registers, including those for the Hand-in-Hand, 1696–1865 (Mss 8674–8). There are topographical indexes to some of the volumes for 1805–59, but the Hand-in-Hand did most of their business in the London area.

 

There is more local material in the policy registers of the Sun, 1710–1863 (also in the Guildhall, Mss 11936–7). These remain largely unindexed, but references to 17 Sun policies from Epsom and Ewell can be found as part of an online index to Surrey properties for the period 1788–1793 at http://www.surreyarchaeology.org.uk/slhc/fire.html, although to read the details researchers will have to consult the original registers at the Guildhall. Glenys Crocker was in charge of the Surrey index, but progress seems to have been slow of late, as the webpage was last updated in 2003.

 

Another online index, called A Place in the Sun, was begun in 2003 by a team of volunteers and can be found at http://www.history.ac.uk/gh/sun.htm. It is intended to cover the period 1816–1831 and they’ve got as far as 1824, dealing specifically with the registers of the Sun’s London office, although some Surrey properties are also included.

 

Guildhall also has the policy registers of the Royal Exchange, 1753–9 and 1773–1883 (Mss 7252–3). These have not been indexed but here we are lucky to have the work of John and Jeanette Norrington for Epsom and Ewell. During several years of visits to the Guildhall, they have transcribed in full over 60 entries for local properties in Royal Exchange registers from 1790 to 1830 (with a further 7 early references from the Sun registers). These transcripts can be consulted in Bourne Hall at the Museum and the Local History Centre.

 

The policies rarely give an address, but those for Epsom can often be located with the help of Lehmann’s Copyholds, and the recent work of the Documentary Group will identify those in Ewell. Many familiar names appear in the Royal Exchange transcripts, including the King’s Head, the Rubbing House, and the Old Wells. Thomas Furniss, the tailor, insures the Yew Tree Restaurant building, and Richard Martin, a coffee house keeper, has a policy for what must have been the Albion.

 

Some policies give a valuation for books, glass, china and pictures. The company seems to have been prepared to underwrite fire-prone trades, including pastrycooks, plumbers and tallowchandlers; policies were naturally biased to things that might burn, so there are several mentions of hayricks on Epsom Common.

 

Jeremy Harte