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The Alliance Assurance Company: sundry papers

Origins of 'The Alliance'

The Alliance Assurance Company of 1-2, Bartholomew Lane in the City can trace its origins back to St Swithin's Lane in the early 1820s. The story goes that the financier Moses Montefiore and Nathan Rothschild – married to sisters, and neighbours in St Swithin’s Lane in the heart of the City of London – fell into conversation one day as the latter was going to collect the dividends on shares he held in an insurance company. The two men agreed that with their many friends and contacts they themselves could supply a useful number of clients for any insurance company, and saw the advantages of setting up a new company themselves.

There were additional attractions for such a venture. Nathan was often forced to pay high premiums to insure his international shipments of bullion and other goods, and would have been particularly keen to break the monopoly held by Lloyd’s on marine insurance; Jews at that time were discriminated against by Lloyds. Nathan and Moses resolved to form an insurance company to rival and circumvent Lloyds, with a larger share capital and a more influential Board of Directors. The plan was quickly put into action. Joining Rothschild and Montefiore as founding presidents were the prominent Quaker, Samuel Gurney, and the financiers John Irving and Francis Baring. 50,000 shares of £100 pounds each were issued and rapidly sold, with only the first £10 of each share actually called up: £5,000,000 was a share capital far in excess of any of its rivals. The Alliance British and Foreign Life and Fire Assurance Company Ltd commenced business on 23 March 1824 in temporary offices in Moses Montefiore’s home in St Swithin’s Lane. It was started with a capital of £5 million, enormous for the time.

The early years

The Company's prospectus claimed that the "extensive connections both foreign and domestic ... and large capital of their directors would provide 'the greatest individual benefit to the Proprietors." Between them, Nathan and Montefiore had important connections in the Jewish community. In a true alliance between share holders and policy holders, a condition of share purchase was that the holder would take out either fire insurance to the value of their subscription, or £1,000 in the life department. As a result of the efforts of the Alliance Company's Board, an Act of Parliament was passed abolishing the monopoly on marine insurance shared by Lloyds and the two Chartered Corporations (London and Royal Exchange). The Alliance instituted a new sister company, the Alliance Marine Assurance Company in 1824, for the purpose of carrying out marine insurance business, after objections from a Lloyd's underwriter, one of the Alliance's shareholders. In addition to marine, fire and life insurance the Alliance Insurance and Alliance Marine granted annuities, endowments for infants and benefits. N M Rothschild & Sons were the major shareholders and always had seas on the Board.

As actuary and head clerk, the company secured the services of Benjamin Gompertz, mathematician and Fellow of the Royal Society. His 1825 law of mortality showed, through the application of differential calculus to the calculation of life expectancy, that mortality rates increased in a geometric – and hence predictable – progression. Gompertz was no stranger. Married to Abigail Montefiore, Moses’ sister, he was very much part of the extended Rothschild-Montefiore family circle. In 1821 his appointment as actuary to another insurance company had been vetoed by them because of his religion. The Alliance, however, would not practice discrimination in any aspect of its business.

As well as the success of the Alliance’s share issue, the company was quick to succeed in attracting clients. Nathan was active in soliciting business from his many contacts. Even before the official opening, John Smith & Brothers in Manchester wrote to him on 18th March 1824:

"As soon as the Alliance Co. are prepared for business we shall send them an order for insurance, but in such an important town as this, you will doubtless have an active agent."

And Down Smith & Co. wrote to one J. Hallifax on 16th April 1824:

"My father desires me to offer you his best thanks for your kind recommendation and introduction to Mr. Rothschild and begs you will be so good as inform the gentleman, that although there are a great many insurance companies in this place, yet he has no doubt a great deal of business might be done, but previous to his making any application to that effect, he thinks it necessary that Down Smith & Co. should be regularly authorized. He therefore will be happy to receive any communication on the subject that the Alliance Company may think proper."

The company prospered, and  Sir Moses Montefiore laid the foundation stone of a new building for the ‘Alliance’ in Batholomew Lane on 2 May 1841. Until 1886 the company was known as the Alliance British and Foreign Life and Fire Assurance Company. In the 19th century, its business was extended to Europe, USA, the West Indies and India. In 1902 the income from the life and annuity policies of the Imperial Life Insurance Company, the Argus Life Assurance Company and the England Assurance Institution was amalgamated to form the Imperial Life Assurance Fund.

The inter-war years

In 1924 N M Rothschild & Sons, as London agents of the government of Brazil, turned to the Alliance in its centenary year to help Brazilian coffee planters insure the vast amounts of coffee stockpiled in warehouses to prevent that year’s bumper crop from flooding the market. The Alliance’s expertise in international market places and fire insurance was proved, not for the first time, invaluable. Again, in the early 1930s, the Alliance was used on behalf of the bank to insure stockpiles of tin. Given the uncertainty of the times, not only was the insurance against the threat of fire, but also: "Explosion directly caused by Riot, Civil Commotion, Rebellion, Insurrection, Military or Usurped Power (other than that caused by Foreign Enemy) Strikers, Locked-out Workers or Persons taking part in Labour Disturbances, or Malicious Persons acting on behalf of or in connection with any Political Organisation."

The Second World War 

The Alliance Assurance Company was central to a bold attempt to save the Vitkovice steel works, owned by the Viennese branch of the Rothschild family, from falling into Nazi ownership. In an attempt to shift ownership into British hands at a time when the rise of Hitler was already recognised as a threat to Germany’s neighbours, the Rothschilds transferred their shares to the Alliance in 1936. For a time this arrangement stalled Göring’s ambitions for Vitkovice, but the partition of Czechoslovakia left the plant in German hands and it was turned over to munitions work for the Axis powers. In 1945 the new Czechoslovak government introduced legislation to nationalise the nation’s major industries: compensation for Vitkovice shareholders was negotiated by the Alliance with the Foreign Compensation Commission in 1951, and a final distribution made to shareholders alongside surrender of Alliance Vitkovice unit certificates in 1962.

Post-war

Business concentration within the insurance industry in the second half of the last century brought the Alliance to merge with the Sun Insurance Company in 1959, and in 1996 this entity merged with the Royal Insurance Company to produce the Royal Sun Alliance. N M Rothschild & Sons Limited maintained its links with the Alliance, by advising Sun Alliance on this merger. Up until this date, members of the Rothschild family had maintained a continuous presence on the management board. In 2008, the Royal & Sun Alliance Insurance Group plc changed its name to RSA Insurance Group.

Members of the Rothschild family on the Boards of The Alliance and Sun Alliance Assurance Companies

The Rothschild family were not only presidents, directors and shareholders in the Alliance over the generations: they were also policy holders. Ferdinand de Rothschild (1839-1898), the noted art collector who built Waddesdon Manor in the 1870s, insured his property with the Alliance, as did Alfred de Rothschild (1842-1918). The New Court premises of the bank were also insured with the Alliance by Lionel de Rothschild (1808-1879), Nathan’s son.

The firm of NM Rothschild & Sons worked with the Alliance Assurance Company in many ways. It was rumoured to be the first Lord Rothschild, Chairman of the Alliance and universally noted for his caution as a businessman and banker, who was instrumental in persuading the company to refuse to insure the Titanic, claiming it was ‘too big to float’.

  • Nathan Mayer Rothschild (1777-1836): President 1824-1836
  • Lionel de Rothschild (1808-1879): Director 1836-1879
  • Anthony de Rothschild (1810-1876): Director 1842-1876
  • Nathaniel Mayer, 1st Lord Rothschild (1840-1915): Auditor 1872-1876, Director 1876-1885, Chairman 1885-1915
  • Charles Rothschild (1877-1923): Director 1905-1915, Chairman 1915-1920, President 1920-1923
  • Lionel de Rothschild (1882-1942): Director 1924-1930, Chairman 1931-1942
  • Anthony de Rothschild (1887-1961): Director 1942-1948 and 1956-1958, Chairman 1949-1956
  • Edmund de Rothschild (1916-2009): Director 1956-1982
  • Leopold de Rothschild (1927-2012): Director 1982-1995
  • Amschel Rothschild (1955-1996): Director 1995-1996

Archive sources

The Rothschild Archive holds no administrative records of the company and no records of individual policy holders. Enquiries about policies should be directed to the RSA Insurance Group.

Some papers of the Alliance Assurance Company, 1824-1965 are preserved in the collections of the London Metropolitan Archives. These include constitutional documents; board minutes and various committee minutes; life policy registers; reports of foreign visits, 1863-1965; agents' instruction books, 1868-1963, and other financial and administrative records. 

Secondary sources: Alliance Insurance 1824-1924, Sir William Schooling (Blades, East & Blades: London, 1924). Published on the occasion of the company's centenary; a copy is available in the Reading Room. The British Insurance Business: A Guide to its History and Records', H Cockerell & E Green, (London, 1976).

The Alliance Assurance Company Limited, badge of office, 1824

000/1911/11, 1 item

Silver gilt oval badge of the Alliance Assurance Company, ‘The Alliance Badge 1824’, cast and chased with ‘Alliance’ and a castle, dated 1824 in foliage border, 1824, with maker’s mark ‘PF’ probably for Peter Venner Firmin. Nathan Mayer Rothschild (1777-1836) was one of the co-founders of the Alliance Assurance Company in 1824, together with his brother-in-law Moses Montefiore, and other leading businessmen from the Jewish and Quaker communities. The effect of the creation of the Alliance was the end of the monopoly in marine insurance of Lloyd’s. The Alliance British and Foreign Life and Fire Assurance Company Ltd was based at New Court for its first two years. This badge, numbered ‘1’ was Nathan Rothschild’s own, and was for many years displayed at New Court.

The Alliance Assurance Company Limited, indenture , 1832

000/1190, 1 item

Indenture for the purchase of ten shares in the Alliance British and Foreign Life and Fire Assurance Company by Lionel de Rothschild, 11 January 1832.

The Alliance Assurance Company: proposition for assurance, c.1836

000/2629, 1 item

Printed proposition for Fire Assurance of the Alliance British and Foreign Life and Fire Assurance Company, Bartholomew Lane, c.1836. The document, which is a blank for completion contains information about Premiums and conditions of assurance, together with information about Life assurance terms offered by the company.

The Alliance Assurance Company Limited, Schedule of Intimation, 1830

000/1671/3, 1 item

Schedule of Intimation, by John Irving, Esq. and others, Presidents of the Alliance British and Foreign Assurance Co. and John Bowie, W.S. of Bonds of annuity and dispositions in security and factory and commission, granted by J.O.L. Mure, esq. of Livingston, 1830.

The Alliance Assurance Company Limited, marketing booklet, c.1915

000/2365/1, 1 item

Printed booklet 'Alliance Assurance Company Limited', c.1915, The booklet, printed by The Alliance for prospective customers, includes a printed reproduction of the text of the original prospectus of the Alliance British and Foreign Life and Fire Assurance Company of 1824.

The Alliance Assurance Company Limited, press advertisement, 1933

000/346/3, 1 item

Original complete copy of The Financial News, 13 November 1933. This edition is entitled ‘The Stock Exchange, An Investors’ Guide’ and features a large advertisement illustration for the Alliance Assurance Company Limited, ‘Lionel N. de Rothschild, OBE, Chairman’ on the cover.

The Alliance Assurance Company Limited, correspondence with N M Rothschild & Sons, 1941-1953

000/292, 1 file

Alliance Assurance Office correspondence with Anthony Gustav de Rothschild, N M Rothschild & Sons, 1941-1953.

The Alliance Assurance Company Limited, 100th anniversary company history, 'Alliance Insurance 1824-1924', 1924

000/2365/2, 2 volumes

In 1924, the Alliance Assurance Co. celebrated its 100th anniversary, and marked the occasion with the publication of a company history. Alliance Insurance 1824-1924, by Sir William Schooling (Blades, East & Blades: London, 1924). The volume includes lists of Directors and illustrations. Two identical copies. A further copy is available in the Reading Room.

The Royal & Sun Alliance Collection, sale catalogue, 2005

000/1670, 1 volume

Christie's London sale catalogue, The Royal & Sun Alliance Collection, Thursday 19 May 2005. The Alliance merged with the Sun Insurance Company in 1959, and in 1996 this entity merged with the Royal Insurance Company to create the Royal Sun Alliance Insurance Company. Along with the business, the new company acquired an important collection of historical artefacts, paintings and other objects, The Royal & Sun Alliance Collection. Regettably, the decision was made to sell the collection in 2005. The sale catalogue however, provides a record of this important collection of insurance history, now lost.