CGU Underwriting

CGU Underwriting was established in 1714 as the Union Fire Office. In 1907, the company became a subsidiary of the Commercial Union Assurance Company Ltd and was incorporated as a limited company on July 30 1907. On February 8 1995, the company was renamed Commercial Union Underwriting Ltd and became CGU Underwriting on October 1 1999.

Company history

Union Assurance Society mace

Panel from Union Assurance Society fire engine

Union Assurance Society Head Office, 81 Cornhill, London, 1819

Union Assurance Society policy, 1725

Union Assurance Society Report and Accounts, 1888

Union Assurance Society policy case

The first meeting of the Union Fire Office was held at the Amsterdam Coffee House in Threadneedle Street, London in February 1714. The company's first claim was paid out in December of the same year on a fire at the Dolphin Tavern in Mark Lane, London. According to a 1735 prospectus, the aims of the company were

"to insure merchandises, goods, wares, utensils in trade, household furniture and such-like things; except plate and pictures, as also glass and china ware, all not in trade; except also ready money, jewels, books of account, tallies, writings, barns, ricks and stacks of corn, hay and straw".

Shortly after its formation, the company entered into an agreement with the Hand-in-Hand Fire Office in which Hand-in-Hand would insure only buildings and Union only contents. This situation continued until 1805 when Union extended its business to include houses and other buildings.

The company had its own fire brigade. Fire fighters wore a brown uniform with distinctive arm badges and a fire mark featuring four clasped hands, which led to it being colloquially known as the Double Hand-in-Hand or the Four-at-Hand office. By 1862, the brigade had its own engine, which was handed over to the city authorities in 1865.

In 1813, the company started to offer life assurance and extended what had been a primarily London-based business to the rest of the United Kingdom and overseas. In the same year, the company dropped the fire part of its name and variously described itself in advertisements and on its policies as the Union Assurance Office, the Union Society and the Union Assurance Society (No 1).

The company grew quickly and, by 1886, it reported funds in hand of £1,950,000. In 1888, the company extended its overseas fire business. By 1891, the company was also transacting life business on the continent and, according to a contemporary source,

"no company doing business in this country is more worthy of confidence".

In 1904, an accident department was established following the acquisition of the Scottish Alliance Insurance Company. In the wake of the disastrous San Francisco earthquake in 1906, the company paid out to policy holders

"in full, without evasion, quibble or discount"

total claims of £828,446. The company struggled to absorb such a large pay out and was subsequently acquired by Commercial Union the following year. In 1907, the company stopped transacting new life business and, by 1916, was offering the following classes of insurance: fire, loss of profits, personal accident, burglary, domestic servants, sickness and accidents, combined domestic, plate glass, fidelity guarantee, workmen's compensation, employers' liability, motor car, motor vehicles, property owners' indemnity, third party, drivers and vehicle risks, motor engineering, steam boilers, gas plants, electrical plants and live stock.

Key dates

Year Event
1714 The company is established
1813 Name changes to Union Assurance Society (No.1)
1865 The company fire engine is handed over to city authorities
1906 The company pays out £828,446 following the San Francisco earthquake
1907 The company becomes a subsidiary of the Commercial Union Assurance Company
1907 The company is incorporated as a limited company
1995 Name changes to Commercial Union Underwriting
1999 Name changes to CGU Underwriting

Did you know...?

  • The company suffered severe losses in the Gordon Riots of 1780.
  • In 1851, the company insured the pictures and drawings at the home of the artist J M W Turner.
  • In 1855 the company insured Queen Victoria and the Prince of Wales.

Subsidiaries and constituents*

Year Company name
- 1896 Aachen Leipziger Insurance Company
1896 - 1896 Victoria Fire Insurance Company of New York
1888 - 1903 Scottish Alliance Insurance Company Ltd
1863 - 1906 Guardian Plate Glass Insurance Company Ltd
1880 - 1911 North West Fire Insurance Company of Canada
1902 - 1914 La Republica of Chile
1874 - 1915 Cotton Waste Dealers' Fire Insurance Company
1910 - 1924 Australian Provincial Assurance Association (fire, marine and accident business)

* Please note the first date given is the date of the establishment of the company and the second date is the date the company was acquired or became a subsidiary. Where only one date is given the company was established as a subsidiary of the parent company. Where one date is preceded by a hyphen the date of the establishment of the company is not known.

Head office premises

Year Address
1714 - 1716 Snow Hill, London (Hand-in-Hand premises)
1716 - 1754 Gutter Lane by Cheapside, London (rented from Sir Edward Clarke)
1754 - 1798 11 Maiden Lane, London
1798 - 1907 81 Cornhill, London (premises rebuilt between 1856 and 1857)
1907 - 1960 1-2 Exchange Buildings, London (lease acquired in 1905 and new offices built)
1960 - 1969 24 Cornhill, London
1969 - St Helen's, 1 Undershaft, London

Staff and officials

Secretary

Year Name
1776 - 1800 Charles Hartley
1800 - 1807 Isaac Harman
1807 - 1812 Thomas Galabin
1812 - 1856 Thomas Lewis
1858 - 1861 William Burrowes Lewis
1865 - 1874 Clement J Oldham
1874 - 1902 Charles Darrell
1902 - 1906 Joseph Powell
by 1908 - 1928 Alfred Makins
1928 - 1945 W H Walker
1945 - 1959 R K Lochhead
1959 - 1960 L S Cooper
1960 - 1969 L N Wills
1969 - 1970 H T Frost
1970 - 1977 D R Cobden
1977 - 1987 at least G T Spratt

Manager

Year Name
1871 - 1888 William Burrowes Lewis
1888 - 1901 William George Wilkins (fire manager)
1901 - 1907 Joseph Powell (general manager and secretary from 1902)
1907 - 1922 Herbert Lewis
1922 - 1925 A E Sich
1925 - 1945 W H Walker (secretary from 1928)
1945 - 1948 S Townsend
1948 - 1959 E L Showell
1959 - 1960 V E Masters
1960 - 1963 A B Kempton
1963 - 1968 at least E Orbell
Position not listed after 1968

Actuary

Year Name
1813 - c1871 Thomas Lewis
c1871 - 1876 Ebenezer Wenham
1876 - 1897 William Wallis
1897 - 1907 Lionel K Pagden
No life business after 1907

Directors (1735)

  • David Barclay
  • Richard Chauncy
  • Walter Coleman
  • Samuel Fludyer
  • Henry Gerrard
  • Samuel Hawkins
  • Henry Hinde
  • Peter Hind
  • Joseph Ingram
  • William Kroger
  • Edward Lambert
  • John Lancashire
  • Thomas Miller
  • Thomas Needham
  • Selfe Norris
  • John Plant
  • John Pickton
  • Edward Smith
  • James Sawcer
  • William Taylor
  • Thomas Teeton
  • Obediah Wickes
  • Robert Wilmott

Home branches and agencies

  • West End branch (1728)
  • Manchester (by 1809; branch by 1879)
  • Edinburgh (1814)
  • Tiverton (by 1850)
  • Chudleigh (by 1850)
  • Glasgow (by 1872)
  • Liverpool (1878)
  • Newcastle (1879)
  • Birmingham (1880)
  • Bristol (by 1885)
  • Leeds (branch in 1888)
  • Nottingham (by 1890)
  • Plymouth (by 1890)
  • Belfast (by 1890)
  • Blackburn (by 1905)
  • Bradford (by 1905)
  • Hull (by 1905)
  • Sheffield (by 1905)
  • Cardiff (by 1905)
  • Leicester (by 1905)
  • Southampton (by 1905)
  • Aberdeen (by 1905)
  • Dundee (by 1905)

Overseas branches and agencies

  • Dublin, Ireland (1813; branch by 1890)
  • Berlin, Germany (1816; branch by 1890)
  • Hamburg, Germany (1817; branch in 1824)
  • Strasburg, Germany (1884)
  • Belgium (1888)
  • United States (1888)
  • Myanmar (Burma) (1889)
  • Chile (1889)
  • Cuba (1889)
  • Copenhagen, Denmark (1889)
  • India (1889)
  • Japan (1889)
  • Philippines (1889)
  • Straits Settlements (Singapore, Malaysia) (1889)
  • Berne, Switzerland (by 1890)
  • Paris, France (by 1890)
  • Amsterdam, Netherlands (by 1890)
  • Canada (1890)
  • Egypt (1890)
  • Panama (1890)
  • Hong Kong (1892)
  • South Africa (1892)
  • Trinidad (1892)
  • Vietnam (French Indo China) (1893)
  • Hawaii, United States (1895)
  • Mauritius (1895)
  • Thailand (1895)
  • Argentina (1896)
  • Bechuanaland (Botswana) (1896)
  • Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) (1896)
  • Jamaica (1898)
  • Cost Rica (1899)
  • Melbourne, Australia (1903)
  • New Zealand (1909)
  • Turkey (1910)
  • Barcelona, Spain (by 1923)

In the archives

The Aviva archive contains records relating to the running of CGU Underwriting between 1725 and 1997. The collection includes deeds of settlement, policies, powers of attorney, registers of members, journals, fire brigade memorabilia, board minutes, board of trade returns, branded material, prospectuses, staff registers, annual report and accounts, photographs, specimen policies, staff diner information, investment ledgers, photographs and product literature.

Further resources

Visit the Guildhall Library for more material relating to CGU Underwriting. Records for CGU Underwriting Ltd can be found under the Union Assurance Society (No.1).

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