West of England fire insurance plaque

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West of England fire insurance plaque

Destruction by fire was a very serious problem in West Country towns well into the 19th century. Private fire-fighting companies grew up to attempt to combat the problem. Fire-marks of pressed metal such as this one were fixed to the fronts of properties whose owners had paid for a policy with the West of England fire insurance company. In the event of a fire, the company would send out a fire-engine, and tackle the blaze if it affected property which the firm protected. All other properties would be allowed to burn.

The West of England company was the biggest such company in Exeter, from which the Commercial Union Company of the recent past and the Norwich Union have developed.

The firm was set up in 1806; the marks date to c. 1830. Both show King Alfred (the Anglo-Saxon king of Wessex, who had protected his kingdom from Viking attack) with his sword, spear and shield.

Acknowledgments: RAM Museum

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