Phoenix Assurance Company: Records and Papers

Scope and Content

The collection includes nearly all the surviving company records of the old Phoenix Assurance Company, as well as papers of the Pelican Life Assurance Company. Other subsidiaries are also represented, either in the main sequence of Phoenix records or in separate sections. These include London Guarantee and Accident (LG), Northern Maritime (NM), Tariff Reinsurances (TR) and Century (CY), as well as the Pelican subsidiaries Star (ST), British Empire Mutual (BE) and Positive (PO).

The collection includes account records, 1782-1977, including general ledgers, 1782-1943, and overseas results, 1887-1957; actuarial valuations, 1895-1980; agency records, 1787-c. 1960; committee minutes, 1865-1978; subject files, 1867-1982, and legal opinions, 1782-1895; claims registers, 1921-1931 and 1928-1963 (East London), and analysis of losses, 1794-1851 and 1902-1976; investment records, 1816-1979; policy registers (agencies), 1783-1900; staff records, 1903-1984; and underwriting records, c. 1880-1982.

The records of the Pelican Life Assurance Company include account records, 1891-1906; actuarial valuations, 1811-1891; agency records, 1803-1896; board and committee minutes, 1797-1907; investment registers, 1895-1907; policy registers, 1820, 1846-1847 and 1904-1908; shareholders' minutes, 1804-1909; registers, 1797-1905, and deeds of settlement, 1798-1900; and staff salaries, 1871-1907.

Administrative / Biographical History

The company was established as the Phoenix Fire Office in 1782 by London sugar refiners discontented with the rates of premium charged by the established fire insurance offices. By 1783 it had 58 agencies, and the early success of the company meant that by 1790 it was able to establish minimum rates for insuring London riverside wharves and warehouses against fire. From 1782 the company started to insure overseas properties belonging to English merchants. Agents were appointed in France, Germany and Portugal in 1786-1787, and in New York and Montreal in 1804. Business in North America was extended further after an inspection tour in 1808-1809 by the company's secretary, Jenkin Jones. The hostilities of 1812-1814 led the company to withdraw from America, but it continued to develop its business in Canada and Europe. Growing competition in the U.K. forced Phoenix to become more competitive, and led to the purchase of a large number of small domestic local offices in the 1820s and 1830s to reduce the level of competition and develop the business. The 1860s also saw the company expand into Germany. In 1901 it was renamed the Phoenix Assurance Company Ltd.

Towards the end of the nineteenth century the company began to move into other forms of insurance, including life insurance (1895), accident business (1906) and marine insurance (1910). This diversification led Phoenix to acquire subsidiaries, such as Bradford Insurance (1959-1971), City Fire Office (1909-1925), Fortress Insurance (1953-1958), London Guarantee and Accident (1869-1922), Tariff Reinsurances (1919-1933) and Union Marine (1863-1911). Over time the company also amalgamated Dublin Insurance (c. 1770-1817), East Kent and Canterbury Economic Fire (1824-1828), Glasgow Fire (1803-1811), the fire business of Hertford, Cambridge and County Fire and Life (1824-1831), Law Life (1823-1909), Liverpool Fire (1776-1795), Manchester Fire (1771-1788), Metellus (1823-1839), National Union Society (1894-1904), Northampton Mutual Plate Glass (1902-1955), Palladium Fire (1824-1830), Pelican and British Empire (1903-1908), Plymouth Plate Glass (1909-1954), Protector Fire (1825-1836), Reading Fire (1823-1841), Royal Irish (1823) and Worcester Fire (1790-1817). Phoenix became a subsidiary of Sun Alliance in 1984.

In 1797 trustees of Phoenix Assurance established the Pelican Life Office. The firm became the Pelican Life Assurance Company, before merging with British Empire Mutual Life Assurance in 1903 to become the Pelican and British Empire Life Office. Pelican dealt in life assurance, annuities and (from 1847) group schemes, in the U.K., North America (from 1807) and overseas, operating through the country agencies of Phoenix Assurance. Over time Pelican acquired the business of Life Star (1818-1822) and Manchester Fire and Life (1824-1847). By the 1820s it had agents in France, Sweden, Germany and North America, and by the 1840s it had invested in the railways and offered short-term loans to docks and canals. The company also began to invest in foreign railways during the 1850s. Pelican amalgamated with Phoenix Assurance in 1907.

Conditions Governing Access

Those wishing to consult records generated since 1945 must obtain written permission as many of the more recent records carry specific restrictions. Permission may be sought from the Hon. Archivist, Royal and Sun Alliance Insurance Group, 1 Bartholomew Lane, London, EC2N 2AB. Earlier material may be consulted freely by the holders of a Reader's Ticket valid for the Manuscripts Reading Room. Certain material cannot be provided due to its poor physical condition or because of special restrictions.

Acquisition Information

Deposited on permanent loan by the Sun Alliance Insurance Group between 1984 and 1991.


Description compiled by Robert Steiner, Department of Manuscripts and University Archives, with reference to Cockerell and Green, The British Insurance business.

Other Finding Aids

A handlist to the collection is available in the Manuscripts Reading Room.

Conditions Governing Use

No form of photography is permitted without the permission of Royal and Sun Alliance.

Related Material

The records of a few subsidiaries are found elsewhere, principally those of the Law Life Company, deposited with the Guildhall Library, and those of Union Marine, Liverpool, which can be consulted at the Merseyside Maritime Museum.


The Phoenix papers are described in H.A.L. Cockerell and Edwin Green, The British Insurance business: a guide to its history and records (Sheffield, 1994), and were used extensively by Clive Trebilcock in Phoenix Assurance and the development of British insurance (2 volumes; Cambridge, 1985-1998).