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Fire Insurance Records

PROJECT 2009-3 : MARCH 2009

AIM: To gather information about historic buildings in Buckinghamshire from fire insurance company records in the London Guildhall archive.

PROJECT TEAM: Chris Emery, Julian Hunt, Andrew Muir, Julia Wise

Sun Insurance fire plaque Many Buckinghamshire houses, farms and business premises were insured with London-based insurance companies during the 18th and 19th centuries. Even today many of our historic buildings still display ‘fire insurance plaques’, indicating that any costs incurred in putting out a fire would be reimbursed by the company.

The records of these companies are held in the document archives at the Guildhall Library in the City of London. These records include descriptions of the buildings insured, along with the name of the owner, possibly the current tenant, and the agreed value of the buildings. Here is one example, from Sun Insurance record number 11936/12/240/19800, dated 7 October 1720:

'Nicholas Merwin of Winslow, gentleman
‘For his house, being the King's Head, with the outhouses thereunto belonging in the said town, now in the tenure of Thomas Spratley: 300.’

Naturally it would be too much to hope that this information might be ordered alphabetically by county and town. The company simply wrote the business down in ledgers as it came in. So the first task of this project is to trawl through the records, finding and transcribing details from entries for Buckinghamshire, sorted by town.

Here is an outline of how the work is done.

The information from each entry is then added to a database, along with a digital photograph of the original entry. If the property can be identified with a building that still exists today, the results can be tied into the Buckinghamshire Historic Environment Record.


Progress on the project was initially slow, in part because the Guildhall archives were closed for refurbishment early in 2009, but records were transcribed for Amersham, Aylesbury, Beaconsfield, Buckingham, Marlow, Newport Pagnell and Winslow.