18th Century London — Obtaining Fire Insurance for Your Home and Protecting Against Fire.

And now for another installment from John Trusler’s The London Adviser and Guide: Containing every Instruction and Information Useful and Necessary to Persons Living in London and Coming to Reside There, 1786.  

This post could possibly be the most boring post in the history of blogs, as Trusler explores the different insurance plans offered.  I would advise reading a few of the policies and then skip  down to the more interesting sections on preventing fire, as well as the city’s preventive measures and responses to fire.

I’ve tried to break up the tedium of the information with images from London: being an Accurate History and Description of the British metropolis and Its Neighbourhood : to Thirty Miles Extent, from an Actual Perambulation, 1809

Let’s dive in…


Insurance Offices from Fire

19. When your house is furnished, the next precaution to be taken is, to insure it from fire: this may be done at several public insurance-offices, and at a very small annual premium. The landlord generally insures the buildings,

1. The Sun-Fire Office, near the Royal Exchange, and in Craig’s-court, Charing-cross, has been esteemed the most eligible, because the proprietors act liberally to the insured, and pay the amount of any loss with little trouble to the supplicant. They expect you to give in the best estimate you can of the loss sustained, swear to the amount, and then they immediately pay; they used to deduct three per cent. on the payment, but have lately altered their plan, and pay now the full sum insured, if the goods lost amount to that sum. The clerks expect some small fees to the amount of a few guineas.

The Sun-Fire Office, besides 7s. 6d. for the policy and mark, has the following annual premiums:

The common Insurances comprehend all brick and stone-buildings not occupied by hazardous trades or goods; hazardous Insurances are on timber-buildings and goods, and merchandizes in them called hazardous; as distillers, chemists, apothecaries, colour-men, tallow-chandlers, oil-men, inn-holders, &c. The double hazardous are thatched, timber, or plaster buildings. If there is any part of the building wood or plaster on the outside, hazardous insurance must be paid.

2. The London Insurance, Birchin-lane, established by a royal charter, assures houses and other buildings, goods, wares, and merchandise, being the property of the assured, on commission or in trust, household goods, furniture, wearing apparel, and printed books, (except writings, books of accompts, notes, bills, bonds, money, jewels, pictures, gun-powdcr, cattle, hay, straw, and corn unthrashed,) from loss or damage by fire, upon the following terms and conditions:

All brick or stone-buildings, covered with slate, tile or lead, wherein no hazardous goods, are deposited, nor any hazardous trades carried on, will be insured at the premiums under common insurance; so will all goods and wares in such buildings.

Timber or plaster buildings covered with slate, tile or lead, wherein no hazardous goods are deposited, nor any hazardous trades carried on, are considered as hazardous insurances: so are all goods and wares net hazardous, if deposited in such buildings; and all hazardous trades, such as apothecaries, bread and biscuit-bakers, colourmen, coopers, ship and tallow- chandlers, inn-holders, malsters, sail-makers and stable-keepers, though tarried on brick or stone-buildings, covered with slate, tile or lead; also all hazardous goods, such as hemp, flax, tow, pitch, tallow, tar and turpentine, deposited in brick or stone-buildings, covered with slate, tile or lead, wherein no hazardous trades are carried on.

Timber or plaster buildings, covered with slate, tile or lead, wherein hazardous goods are deposited, or any hazardous trades carried on; also thatched buildings, wherein are no hazardous goods or trades carried on, and ship-carpenters and boat-builders are considered as doubly hazardous; also hazardous goods deposited in hazardous buildings, in which hazardous trades are carried on; also goods in thatched buildings, glass, china and earthen wares.

Chemists, distillers, sugar-bakers, and others whose trades are attended with extraordinary hazard, from the nature thereof, or other dangerous circumstances, and also deal yards, will be insured by special agreement.

Dwelling-houses, out-houses, and other buildings, goods, wares, and merchandise, may be assured in one policy, provided the sum assured on each be particularly mentioned.

Persons assuring for seven years will be allowed one year’s premium, and the like abatement will be made out of the duty payable to government.

Assurances on buildings and goods are deemed distinct and separate adventures, so that the premium on buildings is not advanced by reason of assuring goods therein nor the premium on goods by reason of assuring the buildings wherein they are kept.

No loss or damage happening to plate will be paid, unless it be expressly mentioned to be assured, and in adjusting losses thereon, the same shall not be valued at more than 6s. per ounce; and in adjusting losses on houses, no wainscot, sculpture or carved work shall be valued at: more than 3s. per yard.

This office allows all reasonable charges attending the removal of goods in cases of fire, and pays the loss of the insured, if the goods shall be destroyed, lost, or damaged by such removal, without any deduction.

3. The Hand-in-Hand Office, opposite St. Sepulchre’s church, Snow-hill, insures for seven years at 10 s. deposit, and 2 S. premium per cent. on brick or stone, and double that sum for timber-houses, the sum not exceeding 1500l. and for any sum from 1500l. to 2000l. 4 s. per cent, on brick or stone, and double on timber-houses, for any term of years not exceeding seven. But a sum not exceeding 2000l. is not to be insured on any building, without the approbation of a general court; and the office insures only three-fourths of the value of each house. This office insures houses only, on the plan of the Union-Office. See the Union Office.

4. The Union-Office, Maiden-lane, Cheapside, is formed on the fame model as that of the Hand-in-Hand, excepting that, instead of houses, this Office only insures goods and merchandise, not exceeding the sum of 6000 1. in any one house, warehouse, yard, &c. at the following rates.

Besides the parliamentary stamp-duties, (and the charge of the policy and mark, which is 9 s. 6 d.) for every 100l. insured for seven years, shall be paid a certain premium, and a deposit as follows :


Common Insurances are in houses built on all sides with brick or stone, and covered with slate, tiles or lead, and in which no hazardous trades are carried on.

Hazardous insurances are goods, not usually deemed hazardous, in timber or plaster buildings; and hazardous goods or trades, such as pitch, tar, tallow, hemp, flax, rosin, &c, apothecaries, coopers, bread or biscuit bakers, ship and tallow chandlers, fail and rope makers, colourmen, inn-holders, &c. in brick or stone buildings.

Double-hazardous insurances are, hazardous goods and trades, in timber or plaster buildings; and also chemists, ship-carpenters, boat-builders, china, glass and earthen ware, hay and straw, &c. 

Particular cases, and other insurances more hazardous still, are subject to the orders and discretion of the directors.

The insurance takes place from the time the charge is paid, and the deed subscribed by the insurer. If any alteration is made on the premises where the goods, &c. are insured, notice must be given at the office, and such alteration approved by the directors, or the policy is void.

The deposit-money is returned on the expiration of the policy; that is, at the end of the seven years, with a proportionable dividend of profits (after deduction of losses and incidental charges only).

Every member or insurer shall pay a due proportion of all losses and charges; and if such proportion shall at any time, beyond the deposit-money, be more than equal to the sum at first deposited, then any member or insurer, who by infurance becomes a member, shall be at liberty to quit the society, paying his proportion due at that time.

Any member may transfer his policy; and the executors or administrators of every member dying, shall, within three months, give notice at the office, and have such transfer or draft indorsed upon his policy, in which cafe, the assignee, executor, or administrator, shall be entitled to the fame benefit the original insurer was; that is, if the directors think proper; if not, they shall only have the proportionable profits up to the time of transfer or death.

Members may attend general meetings, which are held twice a year, and may at any time fee the orders and proceedings of the directors, books of accounts, &c.

5. The Westminster Fire-Office, Bedford-street, Covent-garden, insures houses only, and on the following terms:

Every person insuring for one year shall pay for such insurance, for every hundred pounds, two shillings for brick, and four shillings for timber buildings, exclusive of all present and future Parliamentary impositions, provided the premises are situate within ten miles from the office.

Persons insuring for seven years become proprietors of the office; and in consideration of their payment for the whole term in advance, will be allowed one year’s insurance in seven. They are to pay a premium at the rate of two shillings percent, and a deposit of ten shillings per cent, on brick, and double those sums on timber buildings within five miles from the office.

All septennial insurers shall contribute to making good the losses in proportion to their insurance; but none to be charged above ten shillings per cent, for brick, and double for timber houses, &c. which if any loss shall ever require, any member, first  paying his said share, and remitting the deposit-money, may surrender his policy, and be discharged.

The deposit-money to be returned to every insurer at the expiration of his policy, together with the yearly dividends of profit, except what shall be necessary to defray incident charges and losses by fire, which shall be first deducted out of the same.

Houses and buildings having the fronts and back fronts built with brick or stone, and having also sufficient brick party-walls, are to be deemed brick, and others not of built, to be deemed timber.

All buildings insured to be viewed by the surveyor of the office, who is to determine their quality, whether brick or timber.

Every policy to be charged four-pence, and every mark to six on the house one shilling and four-pence.

This office insures to the full value on all houses.

Gilding, carving, and history painting, are not included in the insurance; nor will more than 75 l. be allowed for any marble chimney-piece; nor more than 75l. for an ornamental ceiling; nor more than two shillings and sixpence per foot running for stucco cornices and entablature; nor more than sixpence per yard running for papering.

6. The Phoenix Company, or New Fire-Office, in Lombard-street, insures houses, goods, and merchandise, to any amount, on the following terms:

Buildings and goods are here considered as separate risks, and therefore the premium or money paid annually will not increase, as set forth in the above table, unless the property insured is in one risk, and shall exceed 1000l.

Large sums may be insured by special agreement.

The price of the policy and mark is 8 s. 6 d.

On death the policy may be continued to the heir, provided the policy is brought to the office to be indorsed. Persons changing their habitations may have their policies indorsed, which keeps them in force.

This office, in case of loss, pays the full value for chimney-pieces, carving, stucco-work, and other decorations.

Persons insuring for seven years will be charged for six years only, and if they insure for a number of years more or less than seven, will be allowed a reasonable discount, both in the premium and insurance tax.

7. The Royal Exchange Assurance Office, over the Exchange, established by royal charter, insures from loss or damage by fire, houses and other buildings, household furniture, wearing apparel, printed books, goods, wares and merchandises, being the property of the assured or on commission, (except all manner of writing, books of accompts, notes, bills, bonds, tallies, ready money, and gun-powder) upon the following terms and conditions:


Any larger sums may be assured by special agreement.

Assurances on jewels, plate, medals, watches, prints not in trade, pictures, drawings, and statuary-work; also assurances to chemists, distillers, and sugar-resiners; or any other assurances more than ordinarily hazardous, by reason of the trade, nature of the goods, narrowness of the place, or other dangerous circumstances, must be particularly specified, and may be made by special agreement.

Any number of dwelling-houses, and the out-houscs thereunto belonging, together with the goods therein, may be assured in one policy, provided the sum to be assured on each is particularly mentioned.

Assurances on buildings and goods are deemed distinct and separate adventures, so that the premium on goods is not advanced by reason of any assurance on the building wherein the goods are kept, nor the premium on the building by reason of any assurance on the goods.

For accommodation of such persons as are desirous of being assured for more than one year, a discount of 5 1. per cent, per annum, on the yearly premium will be allowed for all years except the first, and persons so assured are not subject to any calls or contribution to make good losses.

Every person upon application to be assured with this Company, is to deposit 2 s. and 6 d. for the mark, and 6 s. for the Policy, on sums not exceeding 1000l. and 1ls. for the Policy, on sums exceeding 1000l. which money is to be returned, if the assurance proposed is not agreed to. No policy is to be of any force till the premium for one year is paid.

In adjusting losses, no plate is to be valued at more than six shillings per ounce, except by special agreement.

Persons assured by this corporation do not depend upon an uncertain fund or contribution, nor are they subject to any covenants or calls to make good losses which may happen to themselves or others; the capital stock of this corporation being an unquestionable security to the assured, in case of loss or damage by fire. And in case of dispute, the assureds have a more ready and effectual method of recovery, than can be had against any societies who do not act under a common seal.

This corporation will, in case of fire, allow all reasonable charges attending the removal of goods, and pay the sufferer’s loss, whether the goods are destroyed, lost, or damaged by such removal, without any deduction.

9. As an addition to the expense of insurance, government has laid a tax of is. 6d. on every 100l. insured, which must be paid at the time you pay your insurance, which is always a year in advance.

10. It is customary for these offices to have inserted in the body of the policy the particular articles you insure, and how much upon each; as for example: clothes 501. books 30l. furniture 1501. plate 70I. &c. and though you were to insure the amount of 1000l. they never pay more than you can make appear you have lost. If insuring as above, you have lost 100l. of clothes, they will pay no more than 50l. the sum insured, and the same in other articles. It is folly, therefore to insure beyond the value of your real property. If your property increases at any future time, and you wish to insure more, you can have a new policy for 6s. 6d.

11. In case of removal, the same policy will do, with the addition of an endorsement, for which they charge one shilling.

12. All these offices pay for the removal of goods, in case of an adjoining fire.

Cautions Against Fire.

13. To guard against fire, every master and mistress of a family should take care to keep their chimneys clean swept, and should be particularly attentive, that servants put every fire out before they go to bed, and that they put out the candles in their own room; for if a fire does begin in your own house, as watchmen are always about to give notice, there is sufficient time to escape. But if families should be so unfortunate as to be surprised by fire, and cannot escape at the door, they should by all means endeavor to be cool, and not be too much alarmed—fear overcomes reason, and will prevent studying your safety. If there be no way out at the top of the house; from the first floor windows, or even from the second, a person might escape by tying the blankets and sheets together, fastening one end to a chair, with the window half down, and throwing the other end out, and lowering himself down by the blankets, &c. the window will prevent the chair following you.

14. The law enjoins, that the parish-officers shall pay as a reward to the turn-cock, whose water first reaches the place where any fire breaks out, a sum not exceeding ten shillings.; to the first engine brought complete, a sum not exceeding thirty shillings; to the second a sum not exceeding twenty shillings; and to the third a sum not exceeding ten shillings: and to make persons careful of fire, whenever a chimney takes fire, and the house is not burnt, or where ever any mischief is done to a house by fire beginning in a chimney, and the parish-officers pay the rewards as above, the tenant or lodger, whose chimney is thus set on fire, shall repay the church-wardens the said sums, or such part of them as a Justice shall direct, if the matter is referred to him.

15. But as a preservative against fires, every parish, is furnished with long ladders: these are kept at certain places, and every family should know where they are kept, and write it down, and fix the writing in some conspicuous part of the house, as also in what situation the fire plugs are; by doing this, people can always have recourse to them.

16. If families have anything to preserve more than ordinary; for example, shop-books, books of accompt, writings, bank-notes, cash, &c. as these things take but little room, it would be advisable for those who have no other secure place, to put them every night into a bag, and place them in their chamber by their clothes; they can thus be readily carried off.

17. Some families have stone-closets, others have iron chests, but the above method would be almost equally as secure.

18. Tradesmen would do well to keep duplicates of their books, and lodge one set in the house of a friend; the occurrences of a week might be transcribed at the week’s end.

19. These who have bank-notes should always enter the number, date and sum of each note, in a book, as soon as received, in which case, if destroyed, can giving the bank security to re-pay the money, in case the note ever appears against them, they will give the loser the cash. If they receive them of bankers, and can remember where they received them, and on whose account, such bankers will furnish them with the particulars, as they always enter them in their books.

20. If a neighboring house is on fire, preserve your temper, be cool and wary; don’t be in haste to open the door and let in the rabble, be they as impatient as they may; for in fire, thieves are always ready to plunder a house, and you may lose more that way that any other. The insurance-offices always retain in their service a number of men to attend at fires; these may be known by their dress and badge; and if you admit any into your house, to assist you in removing your property, let these be the only people. The master of the house should stand at the door himself for that purpose, and the goods, as removed, should be carried to the house of some friend in the neighborhood, on the opposite side of the street.


Okay, that was a lot of work.  I’m going to take it easy on the blog for the rest of the week.


5 Replies to “18th Century London — Obtaining Fire Insurance for Your Home and Protecting Against Fire.”

  1. One thing I notice in some prints of London is that the streets seem much wider and everything generally more spacious than I would have imagined. I wonder if this was really the case or if the artists were fudging it — sort of like photos of houses/gardens which when taken from the right angle seem much more orderly and attractive than in real life.

  2. Hey Anonymous! Those images don’t make me think of London and that’s why I chose them. I’ve got many posts to go in this book, so have to pace the illustration. All the microcosm books are the “go to” for the era. I will use those images, but I want to find new sources. I figure if I put up many different illustrators’s work, a pattern of the reality will emerge.

  3. Fire was a daily worry in London. In some sections the houses were close together and fire could spread rapidly. Houses that were insured had a medallion fastened to the front. If it caught on fire the fire truck from the insurance company would try to put it out. If the house next to it caught fire, they weren’t supposed to try to extinguish that fire unless it was also insured. However, neighbors and everyone on the scene would try to put out the fire in order to save the rest of the houses.
    They didn’t have fire hydrants and often the pump bringing water to the houses was only active three days a week.
    It is amazing that they managed to keep London from being burned to the ground quite often.
    After 1666, London was one of the few places that did have a building code. Whether it was enforced or not is a different story.

  4. @Nancy, did you make it down to the paragraph where trusler describes the money one owes the city in case of fire and what to do when your neighbors house catches on fire. I debated not postunf all insurance stuff…but then I wouldn’t be true to the book.

I would love to hear your thoughts!

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