Aviva’s archive needs you: Help map out London history

Anna Stone, Aviva Group Archivist
  • New easy-to-use website designed with Cambridge University launched to help place policies from 1700s onto a digital map
  • Mapping out historic policies will help provide a picture of how London and insurance has evolved
  • Aviva’s archive contains more than 325 years of insurance history

Aviva is inviting people to help map entries from historical policy registers using a new digital tool, developed in collaboration with Cambridge University. It provides extracts of digitised policy entries with automatic transcriptions produced using a handwriting recognition tool, helping users identify, and then map, policy details.

The original documents date back to the Hand in Hand Fire and Life Insurance Society, the oldest of Aviva’s heritage companies, with policy registers dating back to 1696. Mapping these historical policies will help Aviva’s specialist archive team learn more about their earliest customers, as well as providing information for family historians and adding to our understanding of how London looked hundreds of years ago. Aviva hopes to make the completed maps publicly available in the future.

Archives mapping tool
Archives mapping tool

The tool works by randomly allocating users one of the first 3,240 policies, which relate to addresses in London. The first postcodes were not introduced until 1959 and many houses in the registers did not have numbers, so using details of the parish, road names and other geographical markers (such as ‘west of the Tower’) extracted from the policy entry, users can navigate a historical map of London and mark the exact or approximate location of the policy, as well as amending an automated transcription of the policy wording. Once entries are validated, Aviva’s archive team extracts the corrected transcriptions together with the coordinates for the location of the property, providing a picture of the inhabitants and insurance of historical London.

This follows more than two years of work to digitise 150 volumes of historical Hand in Hand policies, covering around 550,000 entries. The details required for working out the insurance premium and identifying the individual property provide a unique window onto London in this period.

The tool can be found on Amicable Contributors.

Aviva’s archive was formed in 2000 when the three archives of Commercial Union, General Accident and Norwich Union were merged. The separate archive collections of Friends Provident and Sun Life were transferred to Aviva’s Norwich office in 2016. The archive contains records of more than 750 companies – an estimated 183,750 items – and fills 2.2km of shelving.

This is a unique opportunity for people to play a role in mapping London’s history.

Anna Stone, Aviva Group Archivist, said: “This is a unique opportunity for people to play a role in mapping London’s history, helping to build a picture of the vital role insurance has played in the growth of the capital over the centuries. The policy registers contain fascinating information about London properties from mansions and hospitals to workshops and poorhouses, helping us add new stories to those which we use to support the Aviva brand today by demonstrating all the ways we have helped and protected our customers throughout our history.”

The Hand in Hand was founded at Tom's Coffee House in St Martin’s Lane, London, on 12 November 1696. It was the UK's oldest existing fire insurance company when it was acquired by Commercial Union in 1905.



Claire Jermany

General Insurance⁠ — Commercial Lines, Community, Heritage

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