Research - Fire marks

Fire marks identified buildings covered by fire insurance companies after the Great Fire of London.

Now it is very easy to identify a house because we all have an address. We have postcodes, street names, house numbers, even house names. But before the invention of the postal service in 1840 there was no real reason to identify houses in this way. The fire insurance companies had to be able to identify houses covered by their insurance quickly so someone hit on the idea of having an emblem attached to a house. The emblems were brightly coloured and they were designed to attract attention. Not only did they show fire insurance companies quickly that a house was insured, they were an early form of advertising for the insurance companies.

To begin with it was mainly wealthy people who could afford to insure their houses.

There are stories of how fire companies would leave houses to burn if the house did not show their fire mark.

The fire insurance company brigades were set upto protect only their own customers but there was a lot of rivalry.The brigades took great pride in their work and the rivalry was more about showing that they were faster and more professional than other brigades.

Company brigades did put out fires in other properties, especially for the uninsured. At a large fire, with several engines and confusing circumstances, the teams almost certainly would just dive in to start fighting the fire. They probably wouldn’t even be able to see the fire mark.

There were no doubt instances of rivalry which may have led to bad behaviour but these were probably few and far between. The fire fighters took great pride in their work and this pride extends to today’s fire fighters.

The fire insurance company brigades were the first fire fighting brigades in the country and the only organised ones in many towns, at a time when the local provision was very poor, even in what are now large towns like Manchester and Leeds.

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