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EDITIONS
Working Lunch Wednesday, 26 February, 2003, 16:25 GMT
High seas to policies
Painting of ships
It all began with shipping
Insurance companies are among the giants of the commercial world.

Names like Prudential, Norwich Union and AXA touch most people's lives, often without them realising.

That's because modern insurance companies are involved in many other areas - such as looking after our pensions.

WHAT'S IN A NAME?
The first insurance company was founded by the extravagantly-named Hath Christ Not Died for Thee Thou Wouldst Be Damned Barebone.
The name came from his father, a devout Puritan called Isaac Praise-God Barebone.
Rather sensibly, Hath later changed his name to Nicholas Barbon.
But those legions of penpushers owe their existence to a very different industry - shipping.

The earliest type of insurance came in Babylonian days.

Merchants would lend each other money and if a ship sank, they wouldn't have to pay the loan back.

Other less primitive systems developed over the years.

Rebuild

After the Great Fire of London in 1666, companies would offer to fight your fire or rebuild your home afterwards.

Edward Lloyd's coffee house
The first insurers met in a coffee house
But if you hadn't signed up with them, you had to combat the blaze on your own.

However, it was on the seas that the industry really grew up.

And as London was one of the world's centres for the maritime indsutry, so it became the hub for insurance.

Gossip

Lloyd's of London was not the first insurance company, but it is certainly one of the best known.

Its history can be traced back to 1688.

Underwriting
The term underwriter dates back to the mid-17th century.
Those insuring property would write their name under the item to be insured along with the risk they were prepared to take. Makes sense, doesn't it?
Just as stockbrokers used to gather in Jonathan's Coffee House, anyone in shipping would make a beeline for Edward Lloyd's.

It became renowned as a place where merchants and shipowners would exchange information and gossip.

"At that time, they felt it was quite useful to pool their risks among themselves and they therefore started de facto insuring," explains Lloyd's director Julian James.

The importance of shipping is still seen today.

Lutine Bell
The Lutine Bell
The Lutine Bell, salvaged from HMS Lutine when it sank in 1799, sits in the underwriting hall.

It was rung when news arrived of an insured ship that was in danger.

Lloyd's played a major role in developing what has become a multi-billion pound industry.

In the UK it's now vastly bigger than the shipping sector that spawned it.

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 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Adam Shaw
The history of insurance
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