Given the important role wine has traditionally played in French life, it is hardly surprising to discover that the first policy written by an Aviva Group company in France was for a wine warehouse!

Country History

Norwich Union Fire prospectus

Norwich Union Fire prospectus, Alsace 1871


On September 23, the Norwich Union Fire Insurance Society opens an agency in Bordeaux, under the management of Mr F Savery of Douai and Mr Bernaird of Paris. The Bordeaux office is charged with carrying out business in Bordeaux, Toulouse, Anglouême, Bayonne and any other part of France. The company’s business address is Rue St Avoi, Bordeaux. On December 5, the agency requests fire marks and fire buckets.


On May 15, Norwich Union Fire approves its first policy in France. The policy is for Fr200,000 cover on a wine warehouse. Not long after, Francis Kirhein applies to represent Norwich Union Fire in Boulogne. On November 26, Norwich Union Fire records its first French claim. The company pays out £1,440 after the destruction by fire of a sugar mill owned by Mr J G Cafler.


Norwich Union Fire opens an agency in Paris.


On April 25, the North British Fire Office, later part of the Commercial Union Assurance Company, decides to open an agency in Paris, where the board believes “good business might be done”. The company already has an agency in Boulogne. North British later becomes the North British and Mercantile Insurance Company Ltd.


According to the North British Fire Office board minutes, the West of England Fire and Life Insurance Society, later part of Commercial Union, has been running an agency in Paris for several years.


The Paris office of the West of England Fire and Life Insurance Society can be found at 80 rue Pontheiu. 


On January 13, the Northern Assurance Company, later part of Commercial Union, opens an agency in Paris under Mr F Linnett. On April 7, the company appoints Schwartz, Bartlow & Co agent for Le Havre.


On June 22, the Northern appoints Messrs Dubroca as new agent for Paris.


L’Abeille Bourguignonne societe d’assurances contre la grele is established to offer hail insurance.


L’Abeille D’Incendie is established for fire insurance.


On March 25, the Northern appoints Thomas Dunkin agent for Bordeaux.

Commercial Union

Commercial Union, Paris, specimen policy, 1897


L’Abeille extends its business to include marine risks.


On February 20, the Commercial Union board resolves to appoint a Paris agent.


L’Abeille closes its marine business


By this date, the North British & Mercantile Insurance Company, later part of Commercial Union, has established an agency in Bordeaux.


The Commercial Union agency in Paris, under fire agent Albert Nivert, takes in £2,656 in premiums.


Norwich Union Fire opens a new agency in Paris. L’Abeille establishes L’Abeille Vie for life assurance.


On August 23, the Scottish Union and National Insurance Company, later part of Norwich Union, opens a joint Paris agency with the Caledonian, Northern & Manchester Fire offices. The agency is operated by Mr Fleury, who receives an annual salary of £800. 


The Lion Fire Insurance Company, later part of the General Accident Fire and Life Assurance Corporation, is established in London and Paris to “carry out fire business in France and the United Kingdom”. The new company’s Paris address is 49 rue Taitbont. On August 12, the Commercial Union fire agent, Mr Albert Nivert, resigns and is replaced by Messrs Charles de Makis and Raoul Duvau, who are charged with managing the company’s business in France. On December 12, Mr Fleury of Scottish Union and National also resigns and is replaced by Mr Bordet, whose salary is £400 per annum.


The Commercial Union fire agency in Paris moves from 85 rue de Richelieu to 16 rue de Grammont. The rent for the new offices is Fr1,900 per annum and the office furniture is valued at £500. The bankers for the agency are Messrs Andre Girod & Co On December 14, the company appoints Trapp & Son as life agent for Paris and Bordeaux.


On July 22, Scottish Union and National withdraws from Paris. L’Abeille establishes L’Abeille Accidents for accident Insurance. La Caisse de Famille, later part of Commercial Union, is established.


The Union Assurance Company, later part of Commercial Union, opens an agency in France.


The South British Insurance Company, later part of General Accident, appoints Mr. Albert Moreau as fire agent for Paris.


The City of London Marine Insurance Company, later part of Commercial Union, establishes an agency in Paris under Mr Vincent at 6 Place de la Bourse.  The company appoints Alfred Pierre agent for Le Havre, as well as Messrs Bonnand and Jean Frederic Guerineau as agents for Marseilles and Bordeaux respectively. On October 29, the Yorkshire Insurance Company, later part of General Accident, opens a direct agency in Paris, under the management of Mr F A Drummond. The Commercial Union agency in Paris takes in premiums worth £59,425.


On March 12, Commercial Union establishes a marine agency in France, under Mr. Emile Landais.


Commercial Union opens a branch office in Paris, under Mr Moreau of Haine, Morant & Moreau. The company also acquires the Paris business of the South British Insurance Company. Haine, Morant & Moreau, who are based at 8 Rue St Auguste, Paris, continue to carry out fire reinsurance business for the company.

Mr L. H. Robert

Mr L. H. Robert, General Accident France, c.1902


South British is now represented by Mr F Harcourt Williams in Lyon – at 12 Rue Royal – and by Rabaud Bros. & Co in Marseilles.


The Norwich Union Life Insurance Society appoints Mr M Laglenne as the company’s first agent in France.


In December, General Accident appoints Michel & Cie as its French representative.


Norwich Union Life appoints Mr G de Vulpillieres as a new agent for France.


General Accident opens a branch in Paris at 8 rue Ménars, under Mr L H Robert. The company is known as La Générale de Perth. The company’s original agents, Auguste Michel de Jocques and Joseph Miganne, become local directors. The Yorkshire acquires Lion Fire and its portfolio of French agents. On March 25, Commercial Union opens an accident agency in Marseilles, under Jules Delibes. La Caisse De Familles changes its name to La Paix.


Following the closure of the Commercial Union Paris branch, the office of Haine, Morant & Moreau in Paris is reconstituted as the general agency for direct French business. At the same time, sub agencies are opened in commercial centres. According to the published history of the company, activities in France are so energetically managed that the country moves to second, after Germany, in foreign territories for volume of business. In April, the company opens a marine agency in Bordeaux, under H & P Rey Frères.


On May 10, Commercial Union appoints Mr M Gombaud as its new marine agent for Bordeaux.


On January 24, Commercial Union opens an accident agency under Mr W W Howell in Lille.


The Union Assurance Society now has agencies in Marseilles and Le Havre.


On July 21, General Accident moves to new premises at 11 rue du 4 Septembre in Paris.

General Accident France

General Accident France, headed paper, 1910


A visiting director from General Accident reports that everything in the Paris branch under Mr Robert is “in perfect order”.


Scottish Union and National appoints H & P Frères as agent for Paris and Mr Jules Delibes as agent for Marseilles. Norwich Union Life appoints a new French agent, Mr B Balp.


The French marine agent for the Yorkshire, Mr Millieu, joins the war effort and is replaced by Ceredes et fils.


The Yorkshire is represented by Biltara, Jacquin & Orebit for marine business in France. The company’s previous agents, Ceredes et fils, are taken on by the subsidiary company, the Ulster Marine Insurance Company. On March 5, the Employers Liability Assurance Corporation, later part of Commercial Union, establishes an agency at Le Havre, under Mr. Paul Giblain.


With the First World War over, General Accident once again has 450 agencies functioning in France. However, the company’s Paris branch statistician is a casualty of the fighting. On February 2, Commercial Union establishes a branch in Paris under William Haine. On the June 22, North British & Mercantile appoints M Gombaud et fils of Bordeaux as the company’s marine agent and, in July, Commercial Union employs the services of Messrs Eeckmann as agent.


General Accident dissolves its French local board.


The English Insurance Company, later part of General Accident, now has an agency in France. L’Epargne de France, later part of Commercial Union, is also established this year.


A report on the Commercial Union Paris branch concludes that business “is on a satisfactory footing both as regards loss experiences and expenses and much credit is due to Mr Haine for his conduct in an exceptionally difficult position. The French companies are in open competition among themselves and it may be said that they bitterly resent the activities of the British offices”. Mr Haine’s deputy by this date is Mr Peyer.

General Accident Headquarters

General Accident Headquarters, France, 1930s


General Accident acquires new offices at 24 rue St. Marc, Paris. The staff magazine describes the new premises as “splendid”, though a report in 1935 will find the street narrow and the office in an unfavourable location. Norwich Union Fire establishes a fire and accident branch in Paris.


General Accident now employs 148 staff in its French branch, under Mr Robert and his deputy Mr Courcouve.


A report on the General Accident Paris branch discusses how the introduction by the branch manager Mr Fieg (appointed in 1933) of mechanised processing such as letter stamping has reduced the staff by 40.


The General Accident Paris branch is evacuated to Juziers.


La Paix Vie is established.


On January 1, North British & Mercantile appoints Joseph Roditi & Co agent for Paris.


The General Accident Paris branch closes and the portfolio is sold to Compagnie Generale D’Assurances.


Norwich Union Life appoints Mr M J Roulin manager for France. New business for this year amounts to £1,869,013.  L’Abeille Incendie merges with L’ Abeille Accidents to form L’Abeille IARD (Incendie, Accident et Risques Divers).


The Norwich Union Life head office for France is now located in Paris. The office has a staff of 53, 38 of which are women.


L’Abeille IARD merges with L’Abeille Grele to form L’Abeille IGARD.  L’Abeille merges with La Paix under a new holding company called La Compagnie d’Assurance Abeille et Paix (CAAP).


CAAP changes its name to Assurances-Abeille-Paix (AAP). The company becomes better known as Groupe Victoire.


The new General Accident Paris branch employs 200 people and is the second largest British insurer in France, after Commercial Union.


The General Accident Paris branch moves to rue Rochechouart.


Compagnie Financiere du Groupe Victoire is established to simplify the organisation of Group Victoire.


General Accident’s non-life business in France is now carried out by the Yorkshire while the company’s transport business is administered by Cabinet Belivier.


General Accident takes on the general business portfolio of Gresham Fire & Accident.


By this date, the Yorkshire's Paris branch, which now operates under General Accident, is located at 40 rue de Laffitte, with Mr. Dreux as manager. The company also has regional offices in Bordeaux, Toulon, Lyon and Rennes for all business except life. Assurance Groupe de Paris now represents the company for marine insurance while General Accident is represented by Bellivies & Cie.


Commercial Union purchases L'Epargne de France.


Commercial Union IARD, a French subsidiary of Commercial Union specialising in industrial and commercial risks, is established to take on the portfolios of the Commercial Union agency, J Eckman SA, and its French overseas branch.


General Accident takes on the portfolio of the Nationale–Nederlanden Group. Commercial Union establishes Financiere Saint Georges to promote investment products in France.


Norwich Union Fire withdraws from France and its portfolio is taken over by General Accident. Commercial Union creates the holding company Commercial Union France.


Commercial Union acquires the Royal St Georges Banque, a specialist French mortgage lender established in 1919 as a subsidiary of the Royal Bank of Canada. The bank is based in Nantes. This is the first time a foreign insurer has acquired a bank in France. L’Epargne de France establishes Credit Maritime Vie, a joint venture with Société Centrale de Credit Maritime Mutuel.


Commercial Union establishes Eurofil for direct insurance sales.


General Accident establishes Vox, a direct motor marketing company in France at Le Mans.


On August 9, Commercial Union acquires the general insurance operations of Groupe Victoire, including its subsidiaries L’Abeille Assurances, L’Abeille Vie, L’Abeille Reassurances, ACEP, AMIS, Assurop and La Paix. This acquisition is the most important investment concluded in France by a British group to date.


L’Abeille Assurances and L’Abeille Vie are incorporated into the Commercial Union France Group while L’Abeille Vie and L’Epargne de France are merged.


General Accident withdraws from construction insurance in France and establishes GA Vie to sell unit-linked investments.


Commercial Union acquires Union Financiere de France. Norwich Union France is established to carry out life business.


L’Abeille, Group Victoire and Norwich Union merge to form Aviva.