I discovered that the Scottish Widows' Fund and Life Assurance Society was indeed founded in 1815, but it was three years before, in March 1812, that the idea had been broached of the need for "a general fund for securing provisions to widows, sisters and other females". The Napoleonic Wars were, of course, the cause for this concern.
The idea of 'life insurance' has been around since antiquity. Romans paid into 'burial clubs' and and traders looked for a means of providing benefits for their survivors. But the business of offering life 'assurance' really took hold in the eighteenth century. There were several English companies by 1800, but the Scottish Widows' Fund was the first such company in Scotland.
The story goes that several eminent Scotsmen met at the Royal Exchange Coffee Rooms in Edinburgh, in 1812, to discuss the possibility of the Fund. It took them three years, but in 1815 they were open for business. By 1821 they were doing so well that they purchased their first office building.
The sketchy details of the founding of the company are what really interest me. I tried to discover the names of the 'eminent Scotsmen' but the Scottish Widows' Fund did not answer my email. (Yes, they do still exist, and are a highly regarded provider of financial services, apparently.) I would love to know the names and the histories of the men who put this idea into action.
I was also fascinated by the location of the meeting. The Royal Exchange, I discovered, is a well know Edinburgh building begun in 1754 and completed in 1761. It was a commercial building specifically built for merchants to conduct their business.
|Royal Exchange in green on this early map of Edinburgh|
It was a handsome building, as the print of 1829 below displays. In its earliest years, it must have been an icon of the newest architectural designs and a gem of the 'Modern Athens'. The Royal Exchange--now the City Chambers of Edinburgh--still exists. And its exterior is very little changed from this view.
It is interesting to speculate on the 'widows, sisters and other females' that the Scottish Widows' Fund aided in its earliest years. Their stories were no doubt sad, but perhaps their circumstances were mitigated by formation of the Fund. My surprise find certainly led me to some interesting research and a fund of ideas for stories!
'Til next time,
After Friday's post, my readers rallied round with more information. Many thanks to Joanna and Eleanor for their help with the Scottish Widows Fund.
Regency researcher extraordinaire Joanna Waugh discovered the Annals of the Scottish Widows Fund at the Internet Archive. It has all the information I wanted, and more. Follow the link for more fascinating facts.
From Twitter, @eleanormharris, an Edinburgh resident, sent me the following fabulous clipping from the Caledonian Mercury of 23/11/1815: