Considering that insurance has thrived in this City for well over three hundred years, it is perhaps surprising that the industry had not spawned a Livery Company centuries ago.
In fact, the Insurers’ Company set something of a record in moving from incorporation as a Guild Company to the achievement of Livery status within the space of three months, the formal letters patent being granted on 18 September 1979 and presented by the Lord Mayor, Sir Kenneth Cork, on 19 October 1979 to create the Worshipful Company of Insurers.
The Company was formed following an initiative by Sir Kenneth Cork who, during his year as Aldermanic Sheriff, came to recognise the desirability of the important financial services to the City being represented by Livery Companies able to play a full part in the governance and development of the City.
Several other Livery Companies were formed in partial response to this initiative including the Chartered Surveyors, the Chartered Accountants and the Actuaries. However, the Master Insurer is no longer a lone figure at the end of the ceremonial line as sixteen other Companies have been formed in the intervening years including the Arbitrators, the Information Technologists, the World Traders, the International Bankers, the Tax Advisers, the Security Professionals, Educators and Art Scholars at number 110. Others are in the course of formation.
The Formative Years 1979 - 1990
The first suggestion of forming an insurance livery company came from Sir Kenneth Cork who, in his year as Aldermanic Sheriff, developed the idea that the expansion of commercial, legal and financial enterprises in the City should be recognised by the creation of new livery companies representing those activities. He thought that the businesses which generated income within the City should become more closely involved in the progress and development of the area generally. It would not be altogether true to say that when Sir Kenneth became Lord Mayor in 1978 he initiated a “livery recruitment campaign” but, by the subtle and persuasive approach used by all good Lord Mayors of London to achieve their best objectives, he let it be well-known to leaders in the financial, insurance, actuarial and property sectors that if they had in mind the preservation of the power and authority of the City and the support of its Corporation, the creation of new liveries representing these newer City activities would not be resented by the older generation of Companies.
For some years it had been felt by leaders in the insurance business that the important impact of their industry on the major City institutions like the banks, the stock market, the legal profession and property owners had not been fully recognised in the conduct of City affairs. Around the same time proposals began to emerge from central government which might have led to changes in the authority of the Corporation of London, possibly diminishing London’s established reputation as the centre for international insurance activities. It is not surprising therefore that hints emerging from the Mansion House about new livery companies found receptive ears. It was in these circumstances that late in 1978 a former Lord Mayor of London, Sir Murray Fox, a chartered surveyor by profession, called on Bill Harris, the Chairman of the British Insurance Association, to tell him that the Chartered Surveyors had formed a company as a necessary preliminary to application for a grant of livery and he recalled a luncheon at which Sir Kenneth Cork, as Aldermanic Sheriff, had referred to the possibility of forming new livery companies. There was little doubt that the inspiration for Sir Murray’s call came from the Lord Mayor’s Parlour.
Following that visit Bill Harris talked over the subject with a number of insurance people, including Donald McMurdie, Secretary-General of the Chartered Insurance Institute who went off to talk to his Counterpart at the Institute of Chartered Surveyors to discuss the procedures and the pros and cons of forming a livery company. Subsequently Sir Murray Fox addressed some twenty leaders from the insurance industry and explained the relationship between the livery companies and the City Corporation.
The idea found support from all sides of the insurance business (there were some objections along the lines of “who wants yet another luncheon/dinning club”, notwithstanding which there is still no such club) and on 24th October 1978 a City “Company” was formed by 20 people, each of whom was encouraged to enrol five more. This “Company” would then apply to become a “Guild Company”.
On the 28th June 1979 the Company of Insurers, a Guild Company, was formed and immediately submitted a petition to the Lord Mayor and Court of Aldermen of the City of London for the grant of livery status. This was granted on 18th September 1979 when the Guild Company became the Worshipful Company of Insurers. Letters patent were presented by the Lord Mayor on 19th September 1979. The Insurers’ Company thus achieved livery status within three months of its incorporation as a Guild Company, and it probably holds the record of all companies in achieving livery status in the shortest time. This fact recognises the esteem in which the insurance industry was held in the City.
City livery companies are numbered in order of precedence (i.e. formation). No 1 is the Mercers’ Company whose origins date from the 14th century. The Insurers Company is No. 92: so after more than 600 years there were still fewer than 100 livery companies. At the first meeting on 28th June 1979 there were 74 people present (the Founder Members) and a further 27 prospective members on a waiting list; by June 1981 membership had increased to 182. At formation total membership was limited to 200, but in 1985 in order to cope with the demand for membership from within the industry an appeal was made to the Court of Common Council to increase the number to 400 and this was granted. Early on it was discussed whether to introduce special facilities for younger persons to join but a decision was deferred and although in 1987 it was decided that a broad age spread would be desirable to ensure continuity it was not until 1990 that young persons wishing to become members could contact the Clerk who would put them in touch with existing members who would be willing to propose them.
Lady Liverymen were admitted in 1982 and the first three were clothed in October of that year. From inception it was the aim of the Company to develop a membership representing all sectors of the business and as new admissions are made this concept is maintained. By 1986 with numbers increasing, members were limited to proposing or seconding only one nomination per year, with Court members having the right to endorse one additional nomination per year. At all times membership of the Insurers’ Company has been limited to persons who are members of, or eligible for membership of the Chartered Insurance Institute. Entry into the Freedom of the Company and its Livery was controlled by the Court, following recommendations by an Admissions Committee.
The governance follows the usual pattern of a Court comprising Master, Senior Warden, Junior Warden and Assistants who may number twenty-four. At the early meetings decisions had to be taken on all manner of subjects relating to the new Company such as, for example, in what form the records should be kept. A Minute of the meeting held on 19th July 1979 states “that the high cost of using leather-bound minute and other books could not be justified, particularly as the calligrapher’s art appeared to be disappearing”; a loose leaf lockable system was thus chosen although the Livery Roll is kept in a more permanent bound form.
At the beginning there were only three formal functions - an Election Court luncheon following the Court meeting when the Officers are elected, an Installation dinner to introduce the new Master and the annual Banquet to include members spouses; additional social occasions which followed are the church service following the Installation Court meeting (after which, in the early days, there was a buffet luncheon in the Hall) Livery luncheons for members and their guests, the first of which was held at Grocers Hall on 15th January 1981 proved very popular and soon there were two per year. A summer buffet/reception had sadly to be dropped after a few years due to the rising costs of venues but some of the interesting places where this event took place were the Lloyd’s of London building, the walkways above Tower Bridge and HMS Belfast. The inaugural Banquet was held at the Mansion House on 28th April 1980 by courtesy of the Lord Mayor, Sir Peter Gadsden and succeeding Lord Mayors have honoured the Company by repeating the invitation.
Not unexpectedly in the first fifteen months or so there was an excess of expenditure over income and in the Treasurer’s report of October 1980 he recommended that the quarterage (subscription) be increased and that a voluntary contribution be introduced to help reduce the deficit which had largely arisen from the costs involved in setting up the Company. The Treasurer expressed the view that if these recommendations were accepted “the Company could become financially viable in two to three years”.
The Company was fortunate in the early years to have the very able service of Jo Craig as Clerk following his retirement from the CII (and he became the first Honorary Liveryman when he ceased to be Clerk in 1983). Oliver Sunderland, a business associate of Sir Kenneth Cork and Clerk to the Chartered Surveyors Company also volunteered his services as Deputy Clerk which were gratefully accepted; the Company benefitted also from advice obtained from the Coopers’ Company and its Clerk.
Initially auditors were employed but in 1984 when an increase in fees was intimated it was decided that future audits could be carried out by qualified personnel, nominated by members of the Court and agreed by the Court itself, from each of two insurance companies. The first of these Honorary Auditors were John Smith of Commercial Union and Alma Munson of Guardian Royal Exchange to whom the Company was very grateful. From 1st September 1985, owing to increased administrative duties due to the growth in membership, Vernon Webb became Clerk and he was employed on the basis of a four-day week instead of the original three days.
The Chaplain to the Company has always been the incumbent at St. Lawrence Jewry-by- Guildhall. The first was the Rev. Basil Watson who retired in 1988 and whose spiritual and spirited encouragement in the earliest years will long be remembered. He was succeeded by the Rev. David Burgess.
The motto OMNIUM DEFENSOR was suggested by Founder Member Allan Grant. The reason was that as “omnium” is masculine, feminine and neuter, it could mean protector of “everybody” and “everything”; thus Protector of All is perhaps the best interpretation, with its unmistakable insurance connotation.
The Company’s Arms were designed by Mrs. June Craig, wife of the first Clerk and they were approved by the Garter King of Arms subject only to one or two minor alterations. As a result of Mrs. Craig’s excellent work the Company obtained their Grant of Arms much earlier than if application had been made through the College of Arms, and were able to have the Arms installed on the Guildhall ceiling (with a batch of others) in 1980; had this opportunity been missed it would have been several years before they would have been displayed there.