UK: From flaming false teeth to fire-damaged 'intimate articles': Aviva Reviews Historic Fire Claims To Mark 350th Anniversary Of Great Fire Of London

Ahead of the 350th anniversary of the Great Fire of London on 2 September, Aviva has trawled through its archives to reveal some of its most quirky fire claims over the last three centuries. The insurer, whose origins can be traced back to the ‘Hand in Hand’, the first mutual fire insurer to be established in the UK in 1696, has unearthed an array of illuminating claims including payments for eyebrows, false teeth and ladies underwear – all as the result of fires.

  • Gargling on the radio: In 1958 a claim was submitted for a fire caused when a small boy poured water onto the radio to see what the BBC announcer would sound like gargling. 
  • False teeth in the flames: In 1928 Norwich Union’s Manchester branch received a claim for fire-damage to a set of false teeth whose lady owner had taken them out to eat an orange and accidentally thrown them into the fire with the peel.
  • Canine fire starters: In 1961 the company received a claim for damage caused by a fire started by dog chewing through a box of matches which ignited and set fire to a bed. 
  • Hair raising: In 1895 Norwich Union Fire’s Glasgow branch received a fire claim for £1 for “loss of eyebrows and portion of head of hair belonging to son John – aged 19.”
  • TV repair causes fire: In October 1953 the insurer paid a claim after a fire caused by magnifier used in front of television set: while the set was away for repair the sun came through a window, was magnified, and set light to a chair.
  • Pants on fire: In 1954 the following letter was received: “My mother respectfully asks me to write and intimate that she intends to proceed with a claim under her policy… A friend has told her that if she exhibits the articles involved in the fire to our Minister, he will issue a certificate. Unfortunately modesty prohibits such an action as the articles are of an intimate character…. PS they fell off the clothes-horse and into the fire.”

In 2015 Aviva settled more than 1,300 claims in the UK for customers whose homes had been damaged by fire. Common causes of fires today include lightning strikes to aerials and phone lines, garden fires getting out of hand, and kitchen / appliance fires in the home.

Stephen Pond, Managing Director Aviva Prevention & Services said: “Going through the archives makes absolutely fascinating reading. It’s not just the claims, but also how fires were managed in bygone days. In the 18th and 19th century insurance companies actively sought to reduce fire damage by running fire brigades. By 1821 Norwich Union was running 25 fire brigades throughout the country.

“Thankfully fire prevention has improved greatly over the years, with smoke detectors and sprinkler systems now commonplace in UK buildings. As well as supporting customers when they need to make a claim, we’re constantly innovating and embracing new technologies to help prevent avoidable incidents such as fires - so we can help our customers protect what’s important to them.”

Further quirky fire facts from Aviva:

  • In 1955 North British and Mercantile received a letter beginning: “pardon my not acknowledging sooner your great consideration and promptitude in our recent burning. It is a great pleasure to have a fire with you”.
  • In 1954 Commercial Union’s Exeter office was asked to provide fire insurance for a lady whose eccentricities included keeping a crocodile, called Percy, who smoked cigarettes.
  • According to reminiscences in the Norwich Union staff magazine of 1941, after one fire in the 1880s the bill for beer for the firemen came to £38 equivalent to around £3,196 in today’s money*. A note of thanks from Norwich Union asked if the beer had been used to extinguish the flames.
  • Norwich Union’s Norwich fire brigade gathered on the first Tuesday of each month and got the engine up to a head of steam. If there were no handy fires nearby they washed the front of the company’s head office, Bignold House. Years later the front of the building had to be replaced having been weakened by the constant washing.


Aviva has wide quantity of fire related memorabilia in its Norwich archive. For images and further information please contact:

Aviva Press Office: Sarah Poulter: 01904 452828 : 07800 691569 :

Notes to editors:

*According to calculations from, based on monetary value in 1880.

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