Insuring the Industrial Revolution: Fire Insurance in Great Britain, 1700–1850, 1st Edition (Paperback) book cover

Insuring the Industrial Revolution

Fire Insurance in Great Britain, 1700–1850, 1st Edition

By Robin Pearson


448 pages

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Fire had always been one of the greatest threats to an early modern British society that relied on the naked flame as the prime source of heating, lighting and cooking. Yet whilst the danger of fire had always been taken seriously, it was not until the start of the eighteenth century that a sophisticated system of insurance became widely available. Whilst a number of high profile fires during the seventeenth century had drawn attention to the economic havoc a major conflagration could wreak, it was not until the effects of sustained industrialization began to alter the economic and social balance of the nation, that fire insurance really took off as a concept. The culmination of ten years of research, this book is the definitive work on early British fire insurance. It also provides a foundation for future comparative international studies of this important financial service, and for a greater level of theorising by historians about the relationship between insurance, perceptions of risk, economic development and social change. Through a detailed study of the archives of nearly 50 English and Scottish insurance companies founded between 1696 and 1850 - virtually all the records currently available - together with the construction of many new datasets on output, performance and markets, this book presents one of the most comprehensive histories ever written of a financial service. As well as measuring the size, market structure and growth rate of insurance, and the extent to which the first industrial revolution was insured, it also demonstrates ways in which insurance can be linked into wider issues of economic and social change in Britain. These range from an examination of the joint-stock company form of organization - to an analysis of changing attitudes towards fire hazard during the course of the eighteenth century. The book concludes by emphasising the ambivalent character of fire insurance in eighteenth and early nineteenth century Britain, contras


Winner of the 2004 Wadsworth Prize for Business History, awarded by the UK Business Archives Council for the best book in business history. '… meticulously researched… this monograph, the result of over a decade's research, makes a major contribution not only to insurance history, but also to British economic history and, in parts, to the social history of industrialization. With extensive footnotes containing a mine of detailed comparative evidence, Pearson has produced a first-class study of an industry that underwent major structural and cultural changes between 1700 and 1850.' Economic History Review 'Despite its rather obvious importance to modern economic development, the history of fire and property insurance has been largely neglected. Until now that is. Robin Pearson's exhaustively researched and meticulously argued study […] offers the definitive history of the British Fire Insurance industry through the middle of the nineteenth century. Even more critically, Pearson establishes just how integral property insurance was to the industrial revolution. Insuring the Industrial Revolution is a singular achievement. Robin Pearson demonstrates that fire insurance played a consequential, if sometimes ambivalent, role in the industrial revolution. He also provides a roadmap that future scholars in this area will follow when constructing their own studies of the history of fire insurance. I hope that this fine study garners the wide audience it deserves.' EH.NET 'Pearson has done a superb job […] to assemble the only truly comprehensive history of the British fire insurance industry to date.' Enterprise & Society 'This is a carefully crafted book that fully achieves its objectives.' Urban History

Table of Contents

Contents: Introduction; Fire insurance and British economic growth, 1700-1850; Part I: The fire insurance markets of Georgian London; Provincial fire insurance in the 18th century; Insurance in wartime, 1782-1815; Insurance in and out of crisis, 1815-50; Part II: Company foundation; Marketing; Underwriting; Investments; Conclusion; Appendices; Bibliography; Index.

About the Series

Modern Economic and Social History

Modern Economic and Social History
Modern Economic and Social History encourages the publication of scholarly monographs on aspects of modern economic and social history. While emphasis is placed on works embodying original research, the series also provides studies of a more general and thematic nature which offer a reappraisal or critical analysis of major issues of debate. Economic and social history has been a flourishing subject of scholarly study during recent decades. Not only has the volume of literature increased enormously but the range of interest in time, space and subject matter has broadened considerably so that today there are many sub-branches of the subject which have developed considerable status in their own right.

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Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
HISTORY / General