West of England Fire and Life Insurance Company Fire Mark

West of England Fire and Life Insurance Company Fire Mark

Description (Brief)
Beginning in the late 17th century, English insurance companies maintained private fire brigades that were paid to respond to fires at properties they insured. Properties were identified by leaden badges (fire marks) bearing a insurance company’s emblem and often stamped with the customer’s policy number.
The West of England Fire and Life Insurance Company of Exeter, England issued this tinned sheet iron fire mark between 1807 and 1894. The mark has a central raised image of King Alfred holding a spear and shield. Over the mark is the raised text “WEST OF ENGLAND” while below the raised text reads “EXETER.” The West of England Fire and Life Insurance Company was founded in 1807 when a fire destroyed two-thirds of the houses in a town near Exeter, and started issuing policies in 1808. The company expanded into London in 1825, and by 1852 it was the sixth-largest insurance company in England.
Currently not on view
Object Name
fire mark
date made
place made
United Kingdom: England
Physical Description
tinned sheet iron (overall material)
overall: 7 1/4 in x 9 3/4 in; 18.415 cm x 24.765 cm
ID Number
accession number
catalog number
Credit Line
Gift of CIGNA Museum and Art Collection
Fire Fighting
See more items in
Home and Community Life: Fire Fighting and Law Enforcement
Cultures & Communities
Firefighting Collection
Fire Marks
Data Source
National Museum of American History
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In searching the British Newspaper Archive for information about my uncle ancestor, Wearman Gifford, I found his name as the chair of meetings of the Company. I know nothing about it, and look forward to learning more.
"The town near Exeter that prompted the formation of the company was Chudleigh, which can be found in the foothills of Haldon Forest between Exeter and Plymouth.. The fire commenced in a bake house in what was known as Culver Lane and rapidly spread to engulf most properties due to the buildings roofing material being thatch. The original fire mark was made of lead and showed King Alfred along with spear and shield. One of my ancestors Christopher Hellyer, who was a noted attorney and lived in Newinnton Lodge Chudleigh, was one of a group of prominent citizens who were tasked with rebuilding the community in the aftermath. Members of my family ( Helliers) have been town councillors in many of the subsequent council administrations since that date until 2010 when I retired from the council.NB. The spelling of Hellier would have depended on the Church clerk who would enter births into the parish records."

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