Platinum Jubilee: How We Used To Do Insurance

Norwich Union promotional booklet cover, 1963

As the Platinum Jubilee weekend celebrations kick off, Aviva and Insurance Edge has looked back to 1952 to see how insurance has evolved since Her Majesty The Queen came to the throne. While many core features have remained the same, records from the Aviva archives provide insights into the changing face of homes, hobbies, vehicles and holidays over the last seven decades.

The 50s saw a boom in housing, both private developer and council funded.

Home buildings insurance in 1952

Aviva documents show comprehensive household insurance offered protection against events still seen today, such as fire, burglary and storms – although some of the 1952 policy wording has fallen out of favour, including “thunderbolt”, “larceny” and “tempest”.

Interestingly, damage caused by flood, subsidence or landslip was excluded. After WWII people had a more stoic response to life-threatening events like floods, or the bitter winter of 1947 which left many people snowed in for weeks. The Council house boom of the 50s also made people glad to escape the damp, crumbling Victorian housing of their parents or grand-parents, plus social housing provided a safety net if your house was flooded or subject to a landslip, something which had not existed in Britain before the 50s.

Properties were covered against damage caused by motor vehicles, as they are today, although impacts from road vehicles were grouped together with damage from horses and cattle, which were a more common sight on the roads of 1952. For example in the city of Chester a livestock market was held in Frodsham Street up until the 1960s, with farmers moving animals through city streets on market days.

Omega watches were popular in the early 50s, as British officers could buy them at a discount during WWII, which won them a wealthy customer base.

Home contents insurance in 1952

Aviva heritage brand Norwich Union provided “private dwelling insurance” which covered a customer’s possessions – similar to modern home contents insurance.

A helpful checklist allowed customers to keep track of their belongings. The list included popular possessions of the day including a piano, radio, television, food stocks, lino, servants’ goods, jewellery and “sundries”. Very few people had jewellery worth a serious amount of money, except for an 18ct wedding band. Some lucky men might have inherited a gold watch, or bought a Swiss brand like Rolex, Omega or Cyma, but hardly anyone insured items like that.

Cash Was King

Most British people had a wireless, not a TV set. Televisions were hugely expensive and generally bought on an installment plan, with a few shillings a week being paid at the shop or to a `Tally man’ who called at your house. Prudential also sold Life insurance by this method in the 1950s too. Almost all insurance then was paid for in cash, no direct debits existed and a cheque could take 10 days to clear in the UK banking system. Brokers would enter the cash payments into a large ledger and customers would initial or sign that ledger to keep a record of Life, With-Profits or car/motorbike insurance policies.

Norwich Union’s upper middle class customers were also offered an optional add-on of glass cover, to include glass in greenhouses, fanlights, verandas, conservatories and outbuildings. Claims of this variety were subject to a £1 excess – equivalent to around £31 today. The policy also covered accidents to servants, as well as their clothing and personal goods.

Specialist insurances: golf, brass bands and shop fronts

Aviva’s heritage companies also offered a number of specialist insurance policies for very specific types of cover. These included golf insurance, cover for brass and military bands and insurance for glass shop fronts.

Golf insurance enabled people to claim for loss or damage “not exceeding £50” (equivalent to around £1,531 today) – for golf clubs and bags. It also provided cover for clubs broken while practising, and accidental injury / death (to the insured person) while on a golf course.

Brass band insurance covered instruments, uniforms, music, music stands, cups and trophies.

Petrol had come off the ration in 1950, so a chap doing rather well might treat his family to a new Lanchester saloon.

Motor insurance in 1952

Motor insurance became mandatory in 1930 and had evolved as vehicles became increasingly common, although according to the Department for Transport, back in 1952, less than 30% of distance travelled in Britain was by car, van or taxi. Forty-two per cent was by bus or coach, and 17% by train. Many people also rode motorcycles in the early 50s, to commute and to attend a scramble, trial or road race meeting at the weekend. Third party insurance was the minimum requirement for Beezas, Triumphs or Nortons.

A motor insurance policy offered in 1952 by General Accident, now a part of Aviva, covered many similar risks to those seen today, including third party indemnity, accidents, and loss or damage to the car. A separate section on the policy scheduled also specified that the customer would be covered for loss or damage to “rugs, coats, luggage, medical or surgical instruments by accidental means or by fire, theft or larceny”.

However, the policy excluded money, jewellery, gold or silver articles, travellers’ samples, tools or books. A separate motor policy offered by Road Transport and General – another Aviva heritage company  covered against loss or damage due to frost, riot and civil commotion, but not earthquake.

Travel insurance in 1952

Most people could only dream of flying somewhere, or even taking a ferry to the Continent. The majority of Brits had holidays in seaside resorts or holiday camps and nobody working class could afford to insure that two week break.

One 1952 policy offered cover for those enjoying “camps, tours and excursions at home and abroad”. Baggage was covered against loss or damage by “pilferage” and “sea water” as well as fire, theft, loss and “other accident or misfortune”.

However, there were exclusions applied for trinkets, watches, gold and silver articles, field glasses, cameras, and “valuable laces”, while an excess was applied for china, glass, typewriters and musical instruments. Similar to the winter sports add-ons of today, certain sports were only covered against accidents by special arrangement. These included motorcycling, mountaineering, winter sports and flying (other than as a fare paying passenger on a regular airline).


About alastair walker 8997 Articles
20 years experience as a journalist and magazine editor. I'm your contact for press releases, events, news and commercial opportunities at Insurance-Edge.Net

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