FIRE MARKS, A HERITAGE OF INSURANCE HISTORY
Risk Management Services Limited has been privileged to have on display at its head office forty-two ( 42) mounted fire marks since August 1994. The fire marks are kindly loaned by Umoy Munro, wife of the deceased Edward ” Ted” Munro. Mr. Munro was an Englishman who took up residence in Trinidad and was an insurance practitioner. He collected fire marks from friends visiting from England and also locally from people who had them. The fire marks in this collection include those issued by such renowned insurers as North British Mercantile, Liverpool London & Globe, Royal Exchange Assurance of London, the Hand in Hand Mutual, Sun Fire Office and the Norwich Union amongst others. Some of these were originally issued in the early eighteenth century.
HISTORY OF FIRE MARKS
In 1666 there occurred in London what is known as the “Great Fire of London”. This fire started in a bakery a little after midnight on Sunday, 2 September and continued until Wednesday, 5 September, 1666 destroying 13, 200 houses and over 80 parish churches ( including St. Paul’s Cathedral) as well as several buildings belonging to the authorities. Few deaths were recorded but some believe that far more died and were simple unaccounted for.
An aftermath of fire was the apparent need to provide some form of compensation to those affected. Not too long after, fire insurance companies were formed. At that time there was no organised fire protection system in place and this lead to fire insurance companies forming their own fire brigades to protect the properties they insured. Historians say that these brigades would only fight fires at buildings they insured. Buildings insured by a particular company were identified by a badge, sign or emblem ( which came to be popularly known as a fire mark) and at one point the contract was not completed until the fire mark was affixed to the property to be insured. It is estimated that approximately 200 British fire insurance companies issued over 800 fire marks, some producing more than one variant. Fire marks were made of lead, copper, tinned iron, zinc, brass and ceramic.
While the fire marks originated in England, their use subsequently spread to other parts of the world, especially to the regions of the British Empire. It is estimated that fire marks have been used in over 63 countries and are still found today in some old buildings in England and elsewhere. The practice continued for over two hundred and fifty years. As governments organised fire brigades,the use of fire marks as an indication as the which building a company insured became less important and eventually became more of a form of advertisement. Today fire marks are avidly sought after by antique collectors.
Fire marks are certainly an important part of the heritage or insurance history and the Risk Management Services Limited will continue to display the “Edward Munro” collection of fire marks with pride.