The Great Fire of London in 1666 devastated one third of the city, and reduced to ruins over 13,000 houses and 89 churches. It was soon realised that there was a need for the provision of compensation on a greater scale than simply a voluntary collection at the local church.
The earliest fire insurance was provided by The Phenix fire office in 1680, but it ceased business in 1712. Other insurance companies developed, and it was necessary to identify those properties for which premiums had been paid.
The fire mark was created to mark these buildings with the identification of the insurance company. The first examples were made of lead, and some hundred years later followed by copper, tinned iron, zinc, brass and ceramic. This practice carried on for two hundred years.
There were approximately two hundred insurance companies that issued over nine hundred fire marks, some only one and others as many as forty-odd different variants.
The Photo Gallery shows several of the fire marks on buildings in Hungerford. Some are original to the buildings on which they are mounted, whilst others are modern additions. Five are in High Street, and one in Eddington.
- Salop Fire Office (1780-1890) lead fire mark, decorated with three leopard heads, policy no. 5266 (not originally on this building). There are two variants.
- Farmers' Company (later the Royal Farmers' Insurance Company) (London, 1840-1888) fire mark, displaying a wheatsheaf. There are 5 variants.
- 2 examples of Sun Fire Office fire mark. This was established in 1710 and was one of the companies which maintained its own fire brigade. There are 26 Sun variants. The early ones were of lead, and included the policy number (549086).
- 2 examples of County Fire Office (1807-1906) marks. There are 12 variants of this mark. Early ones show Britannia holding a Hanovarian shield; this became the Royal Arms of Victoria, and then the Union Flag (as shown in this example).
Fire-marks, by John Vince, published by Shire 1973