Fire Insurance Policy Registers, 1777- 1786 (FIR)

Fire billows from the windows of a large square building on the right of image, with firemen and pumping engines approaching it from the front.  Blackfriars Bridge stretches from in front of the burning building, north across the Thames, with St Paul's Cathedral on the horizon. Thomas Rowlandson, Fire in London, from The Microcosm of London, 1808. A depiction of the burning of the Albion Mills, at the southern end of Blackfriars Bridge on 3 March 1791. ©London Lives.


The 162,973 records detailing the contents of fire insurance policies taken out between 1777 and 1786 included on this website were originally created as part of an ESRC funded project to create an electronic index of all the policies issued by the Sun and Royal Exchange insurance companies in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. The project was formulated as a contribution to economic history, and was designed to allow analysis of the distribution of wealth, building types and occupations on a nationwide scale. The initial database was created between 1978 and 1981 under the direction and leadership of Professors Roderick Floud and Barry Supple. The full data set and project description is available through the UK Data Archive:

The material posted on London Lives encompasses the full dataset, but is available for keyword and name searches only. If you wish to undertake a statistical analysis of this material you can access the database in a range of formats through the UK Data Archive. Copyright in this material remains with the original investigators, Professors Barry Supple and Roderick Floud, and the data are reproduced here by license, for non-commercial use only.

Fire insurance was available through offices established in London from the late seventeenth century, and by the third quarter of the eighteenth century insuring your property against damage by fire was both widespread and normal. Some insurance companies, such as the Hand-in-Hand and the Westminster Fire Office, restricted their coverage to the greater London area, but the two companies whose registers are included here, the Sun and Royal Exchange, operated primarily in the South East, but also as demand arose on a national scale, employing a network of provincial agents.

Almost any type of property could be insured, and the type of premises involved and their contents were normally specified in the policy. By the period covered by this dataset, the Sun Insurance Company had an almost complete monopoly on insuring industrial properties.

The Policy Registers

The vast majority of English insurance records are held at the London Metropolitan Archives, and collectively form a huge body of material relating to the history of the built environment. In their original form, fire policy registers normally record the following: policy number; name and location of the agent; name, status, occupation and address of the policy holder; names, occupations and addresses of tenants; location, type, nature of construction and value of property insured;premium paid; renewal date; and some indication of previous claims or special circumstances. Entries are normally arranged in chronological order, though in the case of the Sun Insurance Registers several different registers were maintain concurrently, complicating the series.

The Database

The original database was created as a series of extended flat files with between 45 and 150 separate fields each, organised to allow for inclusion of the most complex individual policy in a given register, written on behalf of perhaps a dozen or more individuals in joint ownership or occupation of the insured property. The vast majority of policies were much simpler than this, with a single owner and/or occupier of a single residence. As a result the vast majority of fields in the original are blank, and in the version of the database reproduced here these blank fields have been suppressed (extra fields are displayed automatically where they contain data). The field names and coded data have also been expanded, where possible, for clarification. In most instances the database is displayed with fifteen fields:

  • Unique Project ID: Unique identification number.
  • Register Date/Company/Reference: An abstracted statement encoding details of the original register, date of the policy, company, and eighteenth-century reference.
  • Policy Number: Original eighteenth-century policy number.
  • Insured Value in £s: Value in pounds to the nearest whole number.
  • Corporate Name: Where the policy is issued to a limited company.
  • Forename
  • Surname
  • Occupation/Status: A standardised and shortened occupation label.
  • Joint Occupation: A standardised and shortened corporate occupation.
  • Address (i.e.Street Number): Building name or number.
  • Address Type: A standardised description of the building; frequently blank.
  • Street Type: A standardised characterisation of the street.
  • Place Name 1: A standardised name, normally a street or town.
  • Place Type: A standardised characterisation of the place, frequently blank.
  • Place Name 2: A standardised place name, ie. a parish, town or county.
  • Location Type: A standardised characterisation of a location; frequently blank.
  • Location Name: A standardised location name, ie. a county.

A typical entry would look like:

  • Unique Project ID: 14151
  • Register Date/Company/Reference: 1777 SUN 1 260 31\10\79 BN
  • Policy Number: 389325
  • Insured Value in £s: 200
  • Forename: Thomas
  • Surname: Harford
  • Occupation/Status: Victur
  • Address Type: unspecified
  • Address (i.e.Street Number): Whites Ground
  • Street Type: street, road or alley
  • Place Name 1: Barnaby Street
  • Place Type: unspecified place
  • Place Name 2: Southwark

Additional fields will be automatically inserted in the results where additional data is available.

Two eighteenth-century Fire Marks, showing the gilded sun, the mark of the Sun Insurance company. Sun Insurance House Fire Marks, c. 1839-1850. Swansea Museum, GTJ70716 © Casglu'r Tlysau, Gathering the Jewels.

Using this Dataset in London Lives

This database records names of people wealthy enough to insure their private property, and as such captures an elite group of relatively wealthy individuals. As a result there is unlikely to be substantial overlap between the names included in it and the lists of criminals and paupers who form the primary subject of the London Lives site. There should, however, be substantial correlation between these registers and groups such as jurors listed in the Old Bailey Proceedings (OBP) and those sitting on Coroners' Inquests (IC). Given the status of those listed, many should also appear as parish officers, and in the records of St Thomas's Hospital, as governors in the Minutes of the Court of Governors (MG).

Policy holders are also likely to be found among several of the other additional datasets included in London Lives. In particular, matches will be found in the rate books and voting records in the Westminster Historical Database (WHD); the abstracts of Wills Proved at the Prerogative Court of Canterbury; Income Tax Payments, 1799-1803 (ITP); the salary records of 'Clerks' of the East India Company, 1760-1820 (EIC); and the records of the London and Westminster Directory, 1774 (DIR).

Original Sources

This database is derived from the relevant volumes from two series. First, the Sun Insurance Company Registers, 1710-1863 (Ms 11936-7: 1,262 volumes in total); and second, the Royal Exchange Insurance Company Registers, 1753-9, 1773-1883 (Ms 7252-5: 173 volumes, including supplementary series). When originally consulted these records were held at the Guildhall Library. They have since been moved to the London Metropolitan Archives.

Introductory Reading

  • Cockerell, H. A. L. and Green, E. The British Insurance Business, 1547-1970. 2nd edn, Sheffield, 1994.
  • Pearson, Robin. Insuring the Industrial Revolution: Fire Insurance in Great Britain, 1700-1850. Aldershot, 2004.
  • Supple, Barry. Insurance in British History. In Westall, O. M., ed. The Historian and the Business of Insurance. Manchester, 1984, pp. 1-8.

Online Resources

For further reading on this subject see the London Lives Bibliography.