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Sunday, 10 July 2016

Fire Insurance as Jane Austen would have known it.



Insurance in the 18th and early 19th century

London had always feared fires and had legislation in place to try to minimise risk, which had begun with a statute in the thirteenth century forbidding thatched roofs in the city.  However, after the devastating great fire of 1666, the potential loss to individuals as well as the danger to the populace was something which led to the institution of fire insurance companies.

The Guildhall Library, the local records office to the city of London, contains records of the earliest policies.[1]

The Hand-in-Hand Fire and Life Insurance, established 1696
The Sun Fire Office, established 1710, later the Sun Insurance Office
The Royal Exchange Assurance, established 1720

[Details of policies may be found at www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/lma  for anyone interested in more detailed research.]

Initially London based, some insurance offices quickly spread to offer policies in the provinces.  The Hand-in-Hand and the Westminster Fire Office remained exclusively in London, but the Sun, Royal Exchange and Phoenix [records of this last held at Cambridge University Library] spread to other parts of the realm, working through local agents.  Initially they were to be found predominantly in the south, but by the 1780s might be found in every major town throughout England, Scotland and Wales.

When an insurance policy was taken out, a plaque was issued to be attached to the wall of the insured property.  This was called the fire-mark, and ensured that those displaying it would have a fire engine sent from the insurance company involved.  There were no publicly maintained emergency services, of course!  But the insurance companies preferred to save buildings than to pay out for those destroyed by being burned down. 




Some fire marks to be found in Ipswich Transport Museum, including one from a Norwich company

This one still extant on the wall in Ipswich in St Nicholas St

The first effective fire-engine was invented in 1732 by Richard Newsham, who is credited with the re-discovery of the force-pump, to permit a continuous flow of water. [2]  This principal had been known to the Romans but had been lost.   The fire engine depicted was built by Newsham for Dudley North, of Little Glemham Hall, and is on permanent loan to the Ipswich Transport Museum by the current owner, Lady Blanche Cobbold.  It was restored to working order by Fireman Brian Madder. 







Needless to say, if a building did not have an insurance mark on the wall, the fire-engine would not bother to save their property!  However, if a property next door was threatened which did bear the fire-mark, they might work to stop the fire spreading. In theory a reward was paid by the parish for the first engine on the scene, but theory and practice do not always go hand in hand ….

The amount paid for insurance varied with the hazardous nature of the building and the goods therein.   A brick house with slate or tile roof would pay a basic rate, somewhere between 7/- and 10/- per annum, with extras if it were timber framed.  Other hazards might be in the nature of goods held in a shop, such as timber, distilleries, apothecaries, chemists, colourmen, chandlers selling candles, tallow, pitch or other inflamables, oil merchants or purveyors of alcohol [wine merchants or inns].  One might pay another 3/- , or 5/ for double hazard, ie a timberframed building with a hazardous trade carried on within it, these sums also per £100 value, per annum.  Often there was a higher rate for properties worth more than £1000 in value, and an even higher one for those worth over £2000.

 Naturally, preventing fire was a priority, and the head of the household was responsible for seeing that all fires were out or covered, and candles snuffed before retiring for the night. The advice, if trapped upstairs and unable to clamber onto another roof, was to tie sheets and blankets together, attached to a chair, and to open a window only part way, to hold the chair securely, and climb down, “they should by all means endeavor to be cool, and not be too much alarmed—fear overcomes reason, and will prevent studying your safety.”[3]

One company still in operation today is the Royal And Sun Assurance company, which was formed when Sun Alliance and Royal Insurance merged in 1996.  The oldest of these companies, the Sun Fire Office, merged with the Alliance British and Foreign Life and Fire Assurance Company.  This was formed in 1824 by Nathan Mayer Rothschild and Moses Montefiore, with the intent of rivalling Lloyds.[4]  [The London Assurance and Phoenix were also purchased by this group in 1965 and 1984; The Royal Insurance was not founded until 1845.]

Lloyds Insurance is a subject in itself and one I will address in a separate blog.




[2] Ipswich Transport Museum notes
[3] Susannah Ives quoting Trusler, 1809, details on the policies of several insurance companies.   http://susannaives.com/wordpress/2012/02/18th-century-london-obtaining-fire-insurance-for-your-home-and-protecting-against-fire/

Friday, 17 June 2016

The Botanical Gardens, Paris, 1815

The next few posts will be celebrating the release of the fourth Brandon Scandal 'The Wandering Widow' with a few gratuitious pictures to illustrate the notes from the back of the book.
this is the pergola on a hill that Leo speculated might have been a mound of rubbish that couldn't be got rid of it, so they made a garden feature of it



The Botanical Gardens in the 5th Arrondissment were set up under the direction of Louis XIII for the study of medicinal plants by doctors.  The gardens are large and cover many types of plants.  The director of the gardens in 1815, Jean-Baptiste de Monet, Chevalier de Lamarck is the founder of the theory of inheritance of acquired traits on which Charles Darwin built his theory of evolution; indeed, Lamark can be said to be the father of the theory of evolution.  He survived the revolution by changing the name of the gardens from Jardin du Roi to Jardin Des Plantes.  A previous administrator and naturalist, George-Louis Declerc, Comte de Buffon, is commemorated by the pergola on the hill of the labyrinth which the characters visited.  

Plan of the gardens.  Our heroes were staying on the Rue Geoffroy St-Hilaire

A French fashion plate.  The pergola here isn't raised on an eminence, but I wonder if the artist was inspired by the Jardin Botanique? 
 
and here we find Leo and Letty in a Paris which still has narrow streets with medieval buildings, before the redesign of the city in 1848 after the year of revolutions

Thursday, 9 June 2016

Some musings on what the year without a summer [1816] meant to most people

It's the 9th of June, and this morning started cold, murky and miserable.
Now, I  know one looks at childhood through rose coloured spectacles, but I have no recollection, apart from the odd day here or there, of June being chilly enough to need a hot water bottle at night from time to time, as I have this year.
Moreover, on the sunny days this year, I've hung out washing on the line in the morning, and by five in the early evening .... it's still not dry.
Now, I'm not comparing this to the June of 1816 which was really unseasonable, owing to the eruption of Mt Tambora in 1815,  but it's been inconvenient enough to make me think about the travails of the common man in 1816, being common as dirt myself in 2016, and having to think twice about using the tumble drier because of the horrendous cost of electricity.   And at that, I have the advantage of owning a tumble drier, which Mrs. Villager of 1816 did not.   And if the washing did not get dry spread on the bushes on the village green, the common way of drying clothes then, before the invention of the clothes peg, either you didn't wash the clothes, or you wore them damp.  Drying them in front of a fire would mean having to light a fire that was hot enough and burned long enough to dry the clothes; and that meant buying fuel.  A similar dilemma to me and the tumble drier, except that  Mrs. Villager didn't have the option of running into an overdraft as so many of us can do these days.  Cash on the nail was the rule then, unless you were aristocracy.  And if Mr. Villager was engaged in the usual rural activities like raising crops and livestock, well, he was in deep financial trouble.  Crops were killed in the fields by the late May frosts, and the grass was poor for livestock.  There was a serious problem of rickets in lambs, many of which had to be culled because they were unhealthy.  Rickets is caused by a lack of vitamin D, ie, sunlight.  Possibly Master Villager himself had rickets and was unable to help his father in the fields. 
So there's precious little food, no income to speak of, the clothes can't be washed because they won't dry, and will give anyone wearing them a chill or rheumatism [and with sore throats engendered by such chills, the possibility of rheumatic fever, life threatening at worst, or at best leaving a heart murmur].  Washing personally is not fun in the cold, believe me, we had an unheated bathroom for enough years for hot running water to be luke warm by the time the bath was filled in midwinter, and washing was very much a lick and a promise, even with a fire downstairs to sit in front of!  so, we have Mr and Mrs Villager likely to decide that washing was a bad idea.
Unfortunately if Mr and Mrs Villager had used the fire on which they cooked to heat an iron to iron the seams of their unwashed clothing, they would have been able to kill the body lice which lurked there, leaping from person to person as they huddled together for warmth and spreading Typhus, also known as gaol fever.  It was called gaol fever because in gaols, people were in close proximity and rarely washed.  It happened to the army on the Peninsula as well.

So, Mr and Mrs Villager, hungry all the time, and therefore more susceptible to disease, cold all the time, and so more susceptible to disease, stressed out like mad over how they are going to pay the bills without any money for selling produce, and therefore more susceptible to disease, are almost inevitably going to succumb when Typhus strikes.

I address this issue in my Jane Austen 'Emma' sequel, 'Cousin Prudence' [to be found Here, on amazon or Here on amazon uk] as well as describing the dry fogs, and red appearance of the sun for much of the time.  Since there was a theory that the fogs were caused by the mass guns firing during the French wars, especially Waterloo, I shouldn't be surprised if many people wondered if this seemingly dying sun indicated the apocalypse. 

Saturday, 4 June 2016

Speed of Travel in Jane Austen's England



I’m going to expand upon an earlier blog post, as I’ve been looking at very fast horses, to look at the speed of travel in late 18th and early 19th century England.

I originally wrote this because I was a little irritated at reading books in which the heroine left London in the morning and had tea in Devon.  Presumably she shoehorned a V-8 into her carriage and the horses were just for show. 

However, in order to address travel times, I need to speak a little bit about the roads, because the speed of travel may depend a lot on the state of the roads, which improved markedly over the 18th century and on to the end of the Georgian era.

The pike roads, which were maintained by tolls taken at toll booths or turnpikes [hence pike roads], started to come into use with the turnpike trusts in 1707, the major growth in this being between about 1750 and 1772.  It is fair to say that by 1772 the speed of travel to most places had increased significantly owing to metalled roads which had the potholes and wheel ruts filled in regularly.  There was further improvement between 1815 and 1826 when the roads were improved and expanded in number under Thomas Telford. Telford’s design of roads with a heavy stone foundation covered with gravel and broken stone, cambered to shed water, was known as ‘Telford pitching,’  making the surface safer and less likely to be slick.  Following from Telford’s improvements, John Macadam, [who loaned his name a century in 1902 later to tar Macadam, later just ‘tarmac’].  Macadam’s idea was that angular small stones bound together without needing stonework beneath them.  The weight of traffic would force the stones to bind, so long as they were all smaller than the 4” width of many wheels.  Note: tar or pitch was NOT used on a macadamed road in this period.  The Macadam method started to be used after 1819.
So, we see an improvement in roads.  How does that relate to speed of horses?

We have a number of facts.

1/ carriages in London on paved roads generally went at 4 mph.  Walking pace, in other words.  Why so slow?  I would postulate that it is for the same reason that taxicabs still go at walking pace in London; heavy traffic.  Also, paving slabs and cobbles rapidly become slick and slippery with such usual detritus as emptied out water [and other liquids] in a city which still had no proper drainage system, also dropped vegetables from stalls,  the waste matter of hundreds of horses who did what they needed when and where they needed to, and so on.

2/ The  Mail Coach was a marvel to manage an average of 8mph.  The Mail Coach changed horses frequently and did not stop to do more than change horses and get fresh drivers; if you had to get off for a comfort break, you might not have finished in the Jericho before the Mail had gone without you. This includes the toll gates; the blowing of the ‘yard of tin’ ensured that the keepers had the gates open in a hurry for the Mail to go straight through. The Royal Mails did not pay toll.  
Although 8mph does not sound much, this was day and night [incredibly the Mail continued to run even on appalling roads in the worst of weather, without more than carriage lights at the same average speed unless there were serious snow drifts]  and moreover whatever the topography.  Up hill, down dale, 8mph with a heavy coach.  It could do London to York in 25 hours, an incredible speed.  The mail doesn’t do that well nowadays.   


3/ Look at a map of Surrey; googlemaps will find you Leatherhead quite easily. Leatherhead is a very thinly disguised Highbury in Jane Austen's 'Emma'.  It is stated clearly as being 16 miles from London, a journey of some 2 hours. It’s reasonable to suppose that Jane Austen, who did a lot of travelling, had a fair idea how long a journey took.  We have again a figure of 8mph.  I shall return to this.

4/ London to Brighton in 4 hours was a record time.   According to Patterson’s ‘Roads’, an extant travel guide, London to Brighton is 51½ miles.  So the average speed here is about 12½ mph.
This was a run which was either on the flat or downhill, and was achieved by sporting gentlemen who had lightweight curricles and the sort of horses you didn’t see change out of 300 guineas a pair to purchase.  They would have been trained to be short-steppers, that is they took rapid steps with an economy of movement, less showy than the gait of the high-steppers favoured by many for tooling around town, but more efficient.  The fastest sporting horses could manage about 15 miles an hour for short bursts,  but of course doing that in a sustained fashion was not feasible.  I assume that the London to Brighton dash was achieved without changing teams, so these horses had stamina as well as speed.

Which brings us to horses, which are of varied quality, as well as their gait being important.  The best carriage horses were probably the Cleveland Bays, renowned for both speed and stamina.  A broken-down hire horse is not going to manage more than a plod, a high-bred short-stepper will manage more than most people of the era realise is possible.   And of course, how many horses are harnessed to a vehicle, and the weight of the vehicle makes a significant difference; two horses on a curricle with one up might do London to Brighton in four hours, but harnessed to a carriage with a family inside with luggage and they’d be lucky to get half way in the same time.  The Mail had 6 horses, but it was a big and cumbersome vehicle.  Equally, a sporting gent with a curricle might manage Highbury to London  in a little over an hour, much of which is negotiating the traffic in London, as was the time spent by John and Isabella Knightley when they travelled.  


So on to the average travel time of the average carriage.  It is not unreasonable to take the speed Jane Austen cites of about 8mph.  However this is with a coach adequately pulled by the right number of horses for its size; and it also assumes stops to change horses every 2-4 hours, or rest them, and for the passengers to get down for comfort stops or to eat.  Most people do not enjoy being bounced about like peas in a frying pan  as they must have been in the Mail on straight sections, to make up time for the less easy sections.   Let us take the journey to York from London, accomplished by the Mail in 25 hours; a journey of a little under 200 miles.  Depending on the quality of the horses, whether your own were at various posting stations, the weather, the delicacy of constitution of the traveller and whether he could stomach being bounced around at speed, might affect the average.  And taking 8 mph as a good working average, we know that this means 25 hours total on the road, give or take.  It was very rare for any traveller to be on the road for more than 8 hours at a time, so we are looking at 3 days travel.  Travelling all day, every day, feeling every bump, every irregularity.  Held up by argumentative toll-keepers perhaps, or other road users trying to cheat the tolls, or needing 30 head of cattle to be counted…
Although springs had improved out of all recognition since the 1750s, it was still a rather hard transmission.  And believe me, I’d not like to be 8 hours a day for three days in a Land Rover which has the nearest comparable transmission in today’s vehicles.  But people did it.  And were glad to fall into bed in their wayside inns overnight. 

I would postulate that before the improvements of the pike roads, an average of 6 mph might be taken, or on out of the way roads, 4mph or less.   However, I have little data to work on, and I’m going largely on the relative time of driving a 4x4 offroad as compared to on a rudimentary surface.

For toll charges see my earlier article HERE