History of Insurance UK

The word “insurance” has a pretty straight-forward etymology and can be traced back to the 15th century from the Anglo-Norman word “enseurer” (“en” to mean “make”, and “seur” to mean sure – “make sure”). Usage of the word “insurance” has been commonly used with its current meaning since the 16th century.

This is the history of modern insurance in the UK, dating back to the Great Fire of London and seeing how historical events that have taken place since have affected the insurance industry in the UK today. According to the Association of British Insurers, the UK insurance industry is the largest in Europe and the third largest in the world, employing approximately 320,000 people.

Timeline of Modern Business Insurance in the UK

1666: The Great Fire of London
The Great Fire of London is often thought to be the beginning of modern insurance, property insurance in particular. When the fire consumed more than 13,000 buildings, it mostly affected homes but it also burnt down many public buildings and commercial establishments. Homes were destroyed; businesses were destroyed; lives were destroyed.

1667: Phoenix Assurance – The World’s First Insurance Company
Following the Great Fire of London, a new law came to pass allowing organisations to indemnify for losses due to fire. And so Phoenix, the world’s first insurance company, was born – cleverly named after the Greek mythological fire bird that burns itself before rising again from its ashes, reborn.

1681: Barbon’s Insurance Office – England’s First Fire Insurance Company
Nicholas Barbon pioneered the fire insurance industry as he and eleven associates established England’s first fire insurance company, “Insurance Office for Houses”, offering fire insurance to approximately 5000 households in London.

1683: Friendly Societies in England
Friendly Societies were established all over England in 1688, allowing individuals to donate amounts of money to a general sum that could be used for emergencies. These Friendly Societies could support the worker’s families if they ever became sick or injured at work, in exchange for subscription-based payments. These subscriptions would often be based on specific trades, e.g. baker.

1688: Lloyd’s Insurance Market
Edward Lloyd opened a coffee-house in London, called Lloyd’s Coffee House, which became popular amongst merchants, ship owners and sailors. It was a popular location for those in the shipping industry to discuss shipping news and insurance deals amongst one another. And thus, Lloyd’s insurance market was formed, Lloyd’s of London (still going strong today as an insurance market), which led to other related insurance businesses.

1710: The Sun Fire Office
Founded in London in April 1710. Sun Fire was one of the longest-running insurance companies to have existed.

1897: The Workmen Compensation Act
The Workmen Compensation Act in Britain required employers to insure their employees against work-related mishaps, giving industrial workmen the right to compensation for any personal injuries.

1984: Phoenix Assurance Acquired By Sun Alliance & London
Phoenix Assurance, the world’s first insurance company, is acquired by Sun Alliance & London. Sun Alliance & London itself came to be after Sun Alliance acquired London Assurance in 1965. And Sun Alliance came to be after a merger between Sun Fire and The Alliance in 1959 before that. In 1996, RSA Insurance (Royal & Sun Alliance) will be formed following the merger of Sun Alliance and Royal Insurance.

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