This blog is about two pantomimes linked to staff from the same company, but over 50 years apart.

The first story concerns this poster.

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Extract from North British and Mercantile spoof pantomime poster, 1863

It appears to be promoting a pantomime to mark the opening of an extension to the head office of North British and Mercantile Insurance in Princes Street Edinburgh. The date of the opening was to be April Fool’s Day and although the year isn’t given, the names of the staff mentioned suggest it was written in 1863. …


Following on from my blog about women in the office I thought I would share a small selection of material from staff magazines dealing with the thorny relationship between typists and those who dictated to them.

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General Accident typist, 1942

The earliest of these was written by Walter Frederick Gemmer and appeared in the Ladyday 1943 issue of the Norwich Union staff magazine. By this date Gemmer, who had started his career at Norwich Union in 1889, had already retired from his work in the stationary and printing department. …


Re-posting a blog originally published in March 2019 to mark the 75th anniversary of a mass escape of prisoners of war from Stalag Luft III. The story of the escape was the basis for the 1963 film The Great Escape, starring Steve McQueen, James Garner and Richard Attenborough, which was at one time staple family viewing at Christmas.

Although the real Great Escape was not entirely as portrayed in the film, it is certainly a story worth re-telling, and one of the central characters worked for a company which is now part of Aviva.

The first evidence I found of…


At 3 minutes to midnight on 6th August 1927 part of the 6 storey Commercial Union building in Cornhill London fell, floor by floor, into a 55 ft deep pit. The pit had been dug alongside the building as part of excavations for the new Lloyds Bank head office which was being built next door. Eye-witnesses described the ground shaking — and the noise, which was like a series of bombs falling, was heard nearly a mile away.

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Commercial Union’s head office Cornhill London, c1920

Fortunately, the building did not fall without warning. Workmen digging in the pit had heard ominous sounds of cracking earlier in the…


So, what is the link between Aviva and the team from Chile in the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens? The answer is two gold medals and one bronze: the tally of medals taken home by Chile at the end of the 2004 games and the tally of Olympic medals known to have been collected by staff from Aviva’s constituent companies.

The most recent of ‘our’ medals was that of Jayne Torvill, half of ice dance champions Torvill and Dean. Together with Christopher Dean she won gold in the Sarajevo Winter Olympics of 1984. Their score included 12 sixes and the…


This week I’ve been having a look in the archive for stories about cricket. It began when I read about staff at Sun Life Insurance in the early 20th century using these branded match holders for indoor cricket practice.

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Sun Life match holder, c1900

I’m glad that at one survived the mistreatment and is still in the archive collection today.


This is a photograph of Charles Edward Quilter of Gloucester. He is proudly wearing his uniform as captain of Norwich Union’s fire brigade.

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C E Quilter, Gloucester, 1905

Charles captained the Norwich Union firemen in Gloucester for 21 years as they fought fires in and around the city.

He was the last captain of the brigade; in 1912 it was finally disbanded after more than 60 years of service to the people of Gloucester. The photograph below was probably taken to mark the event. It appeared in local newspapers along with a description of the celebratory meal and concert which marked the handover of the…


A blog originally written to mark 65 years since the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. We take a look in the archive and see how our companies marked the event.

As might be expected, I found quite a few photographs of our offices decorated for the occasion. The photograph below shows the decorations planned for the Glasgow office of Northern Assurance at 90 St Vincent Street. Sadly, we don’t have any photographs from the day itself to see how the building actually looked in its finery.

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Northern Assurance, 90 St Vincent Street Glasgow proposed decorations for coronation, 1953

Fortunately, we can see the finished coronation decorations on Norwich Union Life’s head office…


Join our crowdsourcing initiative

We’re working on a crowdsourcing project to transcribe manuscripts from the Archive using a platform called Transkribus. Find out how you can get involved.

A screenshot of the Transkribus platform
A screenshot of the Transkribus platform
Transkribus screenshot

The initial trial will focus on a copy letter book of J J W Deuchar’s outgoing mail, dating from 1903–1909. If you’d like to know more, see below or contact archive@aviva.com.

John James Walker Deuchar (1851–1911) was general manager and actuary of the Norwich Union Life Insurance Society. He is credited with lifting the company out of mediocrity to become Britain’s second largest life insurer by 1901.


The seventh in a series of blogs written to mark the anniversary of VE day by sharing stories of Aviva companies on the home front.

Although London suffered badly during the Blitz it was not just our London staff and branches that were attacked from the air.

Plymouth’s Norwich Union office had a near miss in the raids in March 1941 as later recalled by Wally Hirons:

‘On the night of 20 March I was on duty with the chief clerk when we experienced by far the heaviest raid to date, involving 125 aircraft and lasting 4 1/2 hours. The…

Aviva Group Archive

Unearth some fascinating stories from our past. Learn more @ https://www.aviva.com/about-us/our-heritage/

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