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Fire Insurance Records - how the work is done

The Guildhall Library, in the City of London, holds the records of both the Sun and Royal Exchange Insurance companies, both of which insured tradesmen in Buckinghamshire towns in the 18th century. The policies of the Sun Insurance Company survive for the period 1710-1863 (Ms 11936-7: 1262 volumes) and those of the Royal Exchange Insurance Company cover the periods 1753-9 and 1773-1883 (Ms 7252-5: 173 volumes).

In the 18th century, the Sun had a virtual monopoly of insuring industrial property, which makes its records invaluable for the historian of the Industrial Revolution. These firms insured domestic, commercial and industrial buildings and their contents. The policies were copied into ledgers and include the following information:

Fire insurance plaque on a house in Great Horwood
A fire insurance plaque on a house in Great Horwood.


• policy number,
• name of agent/location of agency;
• name, status, occupation and address of policy holder;
• names, occupations and addresses of tenants (where relevant);
• location, type, nature of construction and value of property insured;
• premium;
• renewal date;
• and some indication of endorsements.

Entries are generally arranged in a chronological or policy number order, but in the case of Sun Insurance, the volume of business meant that several clerks were engaged in making entries in separate concurrent registers, each with their own allocation of batches of policy numbers.

The policy registers of the Sun and Royal Exchange remain largely unindexed, but there are two periods covered by name and place indexes. There is a card index to personal names that appear in the Sun policy registers, 1714-1731 (Ms 17817). This is arranged by county and alphabetically by name of policy holder within each county. It gives:
• the name and occupation or rank of the policy holder or tenant;
• the location of the property by county, parish or village (and occasionally street or house).

There is a photocopy of the Buckinghamshire entries at the Centre for Buckinghamshire Studies in Aylesbury. It excludes London, Scotland and Wales.

The index to Sun and Royal Exchange policy registers for the period 1775-87 (Ms 24172) is also available, in microfiche form, at the Centre for Buckinghamshire Studies. This has name, place and trade indexes. These cover the whole country, but Buckinghamshire towns are necessarily grouped together in the place index.

The Sun and Royal Exchange policies give an unrivalled picture of Buckinghamshire towns in the 18th century. The vast majority of gentry and tradesmen took out fire insurance, particularly following the disastrous fires at Buckingham and Stony Stratford.

In the course of his work on Buckinghamshire towns, Julian Hunt has transcribed hundreds of fire insurance policies, and other members of the project team have added to this.

If you are interested in joining the Fire Insurance Records project, contact Historic Buildings Group coordinator Sue Fox by eMail at paste this address into your eMail application  hbg@bucksas.org.uk.