Railway Passengers Assurance Company Ltd

The Railway Passengers Assurance Company Ltd was established as a joint stock company on December 15 1848 as the Universal Railway Casualty Compensation Company. It was renamed three days later as Railway Passengers Assurance and registered on March 17 1849.

Company History

Company proposal

Railway Passengers Assurance Company proposal

Railway passengers header

Railway Passengers Assurance Company policy header, 1875

Company advertisement

Railway Passengers Assurance Company advertisement

Company prospectus

Railway Passengers Assurance Company prospectus

Company prospectus

Railway Passengers Assurance Company prospectus

Company proposal

Railway Passengers Assurance Company proposal

Pains and Payments booklet

Railway Passengers Pains and Payments booklet, 1907

Promotional booklet

Promotional booklet, Nursery Rhymes and Other Popular Tales in relation to Insurance Against Accidents of All Kinds, 1905

Railway Passengers Assurance poster

Railway Passengers Assurance poster, 1904

The company was formed following a discussion in 1848 between H F Holt and his clerk E Hudson about the possibility of securing insurance against the railway accidents which were then an almost daily occurrence. Holt agreed to became the promoter of the company and, on 24 November 1848, let it be known that a company to be called the Universal Railway Casualty Compensation Company was being formed.

Holt involved three friends, John Dean Paul, George Berkeley Harrison and Samuel Whitfield Daukes, who were already directors of a life assurance company. Together they developed a plan for the new company, which was dependant on the cooperation of railway companies and securing an arrangement for the commutation of stamp duty.

Following a meeting on December 15 1848, the company was registered as the Universal Casualty Compensation Company :

"to grant assurances on the lives of persons travelling by railway and to grant, in cases, of accident not having a fatal termination, compensation to the assured for injuries received under certain conditions".

Agreements were reached with a number of railway companies whereby their clerks would sell insurance for journeys along with the tickets to travel and with the Chancellor of the Exchequer to pay a percentage tax on premiums rather than stamp duty on each policy issued. This last agreement was vital to the success of the company as booking clerks would not have been able to sell insurance if each policy had needed to be stamped upon purchase.

With these necessary agreements in place, the first advertisement for the company appeared in The Times in January 1849. Different premiums were offered depending on the class of fare. This was due to the higher risks involved in insuring those who travelled in the roofless second- and third-class coaches. Railway Passengers was thus the first company specifically established to undertake accident insurance, although its business was limited initially to accidents on the railway. Nonetheless, the company is a true pioneer in the field.

On November 10, the company received its first claim following an accident between Penrith and Preston. The claimant, William Good of Dunstable, was awarded £7 6s. By 1850, the company was operating on 32 railways and between January and September of that year had issued 2,808 periodical tickets and 110,074 single-journey tickets. On June 26 1852, a new act was passed allowing the company to extend its business to the insurance of any person against any kind of accident, though the company did not issue its first general accident policy until September 18 1855.

On November 6 1862, the company was incorporated under the Companies Act as the Railway Passengers Assurance Company. A further act of parliament in 1881 enabled the company to undertake employers' liability insurance.

In 1885, the company came to an arrangement with W A Sandys to insure the holders of his monthly Insurance Railway Guide. Each copy of the guide contained an insurance ticket valid for that month. The scheme was very popular and the arrangement continued for eight years and has been cited as the first example of accident coupon insurance.

In 1892, an act of parliament was passed extending business outside of the United Kingdom. Another act, in 1897, added powers for transacting illness, fidelity guarantee, burglary and any other kind of insurance, except fire, life and marine. The company's first accident and disease policy was sealed in June 1897 and, in 1899, the company began to issue boat and rail insurance tickets as postcards so purchasers could address them to relatives and post them before beginning their journey.

In 1900, the company issued its first burglary insurance followed, in 1905, by its first motor insurance and, in 1910, by plate glass insurance. On 26 July 1910, the company became a subsidiary of the North British & Mercantile Insurance Company, which itself became a subsidiary of the Commercial Union Assurance Company Ltd in 1959.

Following its acquisition by North British & Mercantile, that company's burglary and contingency department was transferred to Railway Passengers in May 1911. In 1912, the company started to offer baggage insurance and, in 1914, added livestock insurance. By 1920, the company was calling itself the oldest accident office in the world.

In 1962, the company's Australian business was transferred to the Commercial Union Assurance Company of Australia Ltd and, by 1963, it was operating as a fire, accident, marine and aviation insurer. In 1964, the company's business in the United States was transferred to the Mercantile Insurance Company of America, a wholly owned subsidiary of North British & Mercantile. In 1965, the company's South African business was transferred to the Commercial Union Assurance Company of South Africa Ltd while the company ceased undertaking marine and aviation insurance. In 1966, business in Ireland was transferred to the Hibernian Insurance Company Ltd.

Shares in the company were transferred to Commercial Union in 1968 and, from 1971, the company's remaining business - fire and accident - was wholly re-insured with Commercial Union. On February 23 1981, the company was re-registered as a private company and, on March 11 2002, changed its name to the Railway Passengers Assurance Company Ltd. The company was dissolved on December 23 2005.

Key dates

Year Event
1848 The company is established
1849 The company receives its first claim following an accident between Penrith and Preston
1862 The company is incorporated under the Companies Act as the Railway Passengers Assurance Company
1910 The company becomes a subsidiary of the North British & Mercantile Insurance Company
1959 North British & Mercantile becomes a subsidiary of the Commercial Union Assurance Company
1962 Business in Australia is transferred to the Commercial Union Assurance Company of Australia
1964 Business in the United States is transferred to the Mercantile Insurance Company of America
1965 Business in South Africa is transferred to the Commercial Union Assurance Company of South Africa
1966 Business in Ireland is transferred to the Hibernian Insurance Company
1968 Company shares are transferred to Commercial Union
1981 The company is re-registered as a private company
2002 Name changes to the Railway Passengers Assurance Company
2005 The company is dissolved

Did you know...?

  • In its early years, the company dispatched a surgeon to each accident scene to see the insured received proper attention and that their claims were settled.
  • William John Vian, who became secretary of the company in 1852, was first appointed clerk in 1849. He was only appointed because his father was head porter at Herries Farquhar Bank and was recommended by Harvie Morton Farquhar, a director of the company.
  • In 1857, James Shilling, under the pretext of a runaway horse, drove his aged father, Thomas Shilling, into the Medway river at a point where there was no prospect of help. Shilling Sr clung on to his son and the two men drowned. Both were heavily insured for over £1,000 with two different accident offices, one of which was the Railway Passengers Assurance Company.
  • The company is said to be responsible for the introduction of accident insurance to the United States. James G Batterson, who established the Travellers in 1863, said he got the idea after buying a Railway Passengers journey ticket in 1859 to travel from Leamington to London.
  • In 1867, following a pit disaster at the Oaks Colliery near Barnsley the previous year, letters appeared in the press criticising the accident insurer, the Accidental Death Insurance Company. The company had refused to pay out on the death of Mr Parkin Jeffcock, a mining engineer who had descended into the pit to rescue those trapped and lost his life in a further explosion. Accidental Death disputed liability on the grounds of his "wilful exposure" to danger. As a result of the bad publicity, the then secretary of Railway Passengers wrote to the Times, ending with the declaration that the company :

    "desire to make it as widely known as possible that in their opinion the loss of life in the endeavour to save the lives of others is not a wilful exposure to unnecessary danger".

  • In 1872, a fourth floor was added to the company's office at 64 Cornhill. This floor became home to the caretaker and his wife, who opened a restaurant in the basement. In the 1880s, she charged 1s 4d for a joint, two vegetables and a sweet and 2d a glass for beer.
  • The company insured Captain Boycott and wrote to him in 1880 - when he was under military protection having had threats on his life - to remind him that if he remained in Ireland his policy could only be renewed subject to the exclusion of assault.
  • The company's first telephone was installed in 1886.
  • For Queen Victoria's jubilee in 1887, the company spent £15 on decorations, including a lighted sign proclaiming:

    "God save the Queen from Accidents of all kinds".
  • In 1905, the company adopted a logo featuring St George and the dragon.
  • In 1907, the company employed its first female typists, Miss M Tonking, Miss E Thompson and Miss E Bullock.
  • Following the sinking of the Great Eastern Railway Harwich Boat, the SS Berlin, in February 1907, the company paid out £8,600, its largest single loss at that time. Of the 143 people killed, 10 were insured by the company, with three holding general accident policies and seven holding boat and rail tickets.
  • The company was one of a number of underwriters who insured the Empress of Ireland, which sank on August 29 1914. Having left Quebec along the St Lawrence Seaway, she collided with the 6,000-ton Norwegian collier Storstad in heavy fog and sank in less than 15 minutes with the loss of 1,012 lives. In an interesting aside, the master of the Empress of Ireland was the same man who, in 1910, had recognised and apprehended Dr. Crippen, reportedly the first criminal to be captured with the aid of wireless communication.
  • In October 1940, the company's building at 64 Cornhill was hit by a large incendiary bomb, which went through to the second floor.

Head office premises

Year Address
1849 - 1860 3 Old Broad Street, London
1860 - 1908 64 Cornhill, London (also leased the first floor of 62-63 Cornhill from 1903)
1908 - 1910 81 Cornhill, London (during building works at 64 Cornhill)
1910 - 1966 64 Cornhill, London
1939 - 1945 Newland Park, Chalfont St Giles, Buckinghamshire (wartime head office)
1966 - 1969 24 Cornhill, London
1969 - 2005 St Helen's, 1 Undershaft, London


Year Name
1849 - 1852 Alexander Beattie
1852 - 1890 William John Vian
1890 - 1911 Alfred Vian (brother of William Vian)
1911 - 1914 Arthur Worley (manager from 1912; later Sir)
1914 - 1926 Francis Leonard Harding
1926 - 1944 Mr Cansdale
1945 - 1949 H V Britten
1949 - 1957 F Hayter Cox
1957 - 1959 W Trotter
1959 - 1964 C W Lowndes
1964 - 1971 H T Frost (manager from 1965)
1971 - 1977 D R Cobden
1977 - 1982 at least G T Spratt


Year Name
Position created in 1912
1912 - 1936 Arthur Worley (and secretary until 1914; later Sir)
1936 - 1944 Mr Knowles
1945 - 1949 H C Wintle
1949 - 1959 H V Britten
1959 - 1965 W Trotter
1965 - 1971 H T Frost (also secretary)
Position not listed after 1971

Directors (1849)

  • John Dean Paul
  • George Harrison
  • Humphrey Brown
  • James Clay
  • George Clive
  • Samuel Whitfield Daukes
  • Harvie Morton Farquhar
  • Alexander Gur Kinnaird

Home branches and agencies

The majority of business was conducted through railway booking clerks who sold insurance with the railway tickets. A branch network was only really established following the company's acquisition by North British & Mercantile in 1910.

  • Cambridge (1849) (agency)
  • Regent Street, London (1863) first branch
  • West end, London (1888)

Overseas branches and agencies

  • Dublin, Ireland (1850)
  • Paris, France (1852)
  • Amsterdam, Netherlands (1883)
  • Bombay, India (1892)
  • South Africa (1901)
  • Montreal, Canada (1902)
  • Calcutta, India (by 1912)
  • Australia (by 1912)
  • Peru (by 1912)
  • Austria (by 1912)
  • Gothenburg, Sweden (1920)
  • Shanghai, China (1924)

Published history

The Oldest Accident Office in the World: Being the Story of the Railway Passengers Assurance Company, 1849 - 1949 by F Hayter Cox. Fanfare Press, London, 1949.

In the archives

The Aviva archive contains records relating to the running of the Railway Passengers Assurance Company between 1849 and 1997. The collection includes correspondence, policies, centenary files, acts of parliament, board and committee minutes, proposals, prospectuses, board of trade returns, share ledgers, accounts papers, promotional literature, photographs, advertising and annual reports and accounts.

Other resources

Visit the Guildhall Library for further material relating to the Railway Passengers Assurance Company.

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