Data from the Phoenix Fire Office
Bryan Mawer


  Premiums, losses,& rates, 1782-1843.
  Sugarhouse losses, 1829-46.
  Sugarhouse valuations, 1844.
  Sugarhouse valuations, Country Dept, 1846.
  Sugarhouses at work, 1846.
  Journal C, 1805-18.
  Severn & Co v Phoenix, 1820.

Summary .....
In 1782, the Phoenix Fire Office was established by sugar refiners for sugar refiners, prompted by objections to the excessive rates charged by the existing insurance companies, including the Sun Fire Office.

Clive Trebilcock has produced two volumes based upon Phoenix Assurance (1), and original material is held at Cambridge University Library (CUL) (2), Sun Assurance, and, according to Stern 1954 (3), the Guildhall Library which appears to hold the earliest documents.

The collection at CUL is large (over 2000 items) though, rather disappointingly, holds comparatively little sugar refinery material, and appears to have some of that out on permanent loan.


However, my first visit to CUL has produced some useful information, mainly for the period 1830-50, much of which was prepared at the time in order to debate the necessary increases in rates/premiums. Rates had remained too low, particularly for the 'old process', and new rates were set, abt 1840, showing premiums for the 'old process' at twice that of the 'steam process'. I have tabulated, and in parts combined, the evidence used in the tables below.

Some details of premiums, losses, and rates - 1782-1843 - (from CUL PX513) .....

YearValue Premiums Losses
1830-1840By Steam  
 (4287941) (43597)
1830-1840Old Process  
1840Rates set at: shillings
1841Rates set at: shillings

Sugarhouse losses - 1829-1842 & 1846 - (from CUL PX513) .....

YearSugarhouseBuildings Stock/Ut's ProcessLocation
 Geo Bankes & Co 5000  
 Geo Milner78   
 Guppy Bros 436  
 Fanny Horton1200   
 Sir John Croft66   
 Geo Wicke (execs) 23  
 W Bishop & Co 12  
 Claus Hincken & Co23993776  
 Albert Briebach5051763  
 Wm Walker56851  
 Albert Briebach6   
 Michael Muhm 1780  
 Carsten Holthouse282111394  
 Birkett & Co96300  
 John Coope1880600  
 John G Geller & Co 900oldLiverpool
 Hincken & Co 4old 
 James Farmer 2752oldOsborn St
 John Coope71119old 
 Charles Bowman12101old 
 Stewart & Schibben 6198oldDock St
 Jonas(2721)( ) Wellclose Sq
 John Coope11 old 
 Jacob Schlamber7 old 
 James Farmer 10old 
 Schroder & Co5 mixed 
 Buckler(1525)( )  
 Birkett & Milbourn 4  
Buckler(4)( )  
 Geo Bankes30935000steamThomas St
 Archibald Watson 10000steamRatcliffe
 John Coope35 n/w 
 HJN Browne 11steam 
 Stermich(2287)( ) Ratcliffe
 Briebach & Mogge 943oldDenmark St
 H Craven(3089)( ) Duncan St
 Craven & Lucas9613mixedDuncan St
 Frederick Bowman 12000mixedDuncan St
 Frederick Bowman14   
 Goodhart5745  Ratcliffe
 Spiers(1000)( ) Greenock
 Briebach(10)( ) Denmark St
 McEwan(48)( )  
 Branker(16000)( ) Liverpool
 J Fairrie4000 Burned downGreenock
 Macfie & Son5000 Burned downBachelor St, Liverpool

Sugarhouse valuations for 1844 - (from CUL PX513) .....
(The original document shows, for some of the larger premises, that the valuation was broken down into seperate assessments for each part of the refinery, however these were in most cases assigned a letter code rather than a name, and the document does not include the key to that code. I have included, in the third column, those assessments that were named.)

F Bowman31900inc : single house 8200, double house 2500, bastard house 4700, clarifying house 1300, store 1500, men's house 900, dwelling house 600, dwelling house 300
J Davis (2)22900inc : boiler house 500
Craven & Lucas20200inc : men's house 1000, counting house 500, dwelling house 500
E Goodhart15500inc : filter house 2200, other buildings 1300
J Hodgson13000 
H N Browne12000 
T Hodgson11400inc : warehouse 1400
Jacob Goodhart10000 
J Coope10000 
C Bowman9650inc : dwelling house 900, men's house 450
Holden & Vining9000Bristol
Butterworth & Co9000Bristol
Dames & Bowman8500 
Friend & Bowman8500 
P Martineau8000 
Hall & Boyd7500 
E Goodhart7000Hooper Sq
Wm Tringham6000Chelsea
J Bryant & Co5500Plymouth
Hincken & Co5150 
D Martineau5000 
Macfie & Sons5000Liverpool
U Brown5000Paisley
Leith Sug Ref Co4500 
J Kirkland & Co4150Paisley
Davies & Finzel4000Bristol
J & F Savage2500Bristol
W McEwan Sons & Co2000Glasgow
C W Newman1000Liverpool
Hutchinson & Leigh700 
C W Newman200Liverpool

Sugarhouse valuations for 1846 - Country Dept (from CUL PX513) .....

Sugarhouse Value
A MaudeBank of Canal, Goole7500
Mrs A ButterworthOld Market, Bristol7000
Bernard & CoStone Bridge, Bristol7000
J Bryant & CoPlymouth5500
Macfie & SonsBachelor St, Liverpool5000
W TringhamCoppice Row, Clerkenwell4600 + 1400
J Fairrie & CoGreenock4000
M BrownPort Glasgow4000 + 1000
J Kirkland & SonGlasgow4000 + 1000
G J WainwrightWilliam St, Liverpool3000 + 2000 + 1000
Hier & CoBristol3000
H Blancken & CoSugarhouse Lane, Greenock2000
Macfie & SonsTemple St, Liverpool2000
J ParryEllenborough St, Liverpool1800
C W NewmanWilliam St, Liverpool1200
G W WainwrightWilliam St, Liverpool100

London sugarhouses at work in 1846 - (from CUL PX513) .....

Bowden & CoFinch St
C BowmanChurch Lane
F Bowman & SonGt Alie St - East House
F Bowman & SonGt Alie St - West House
F Bowman & SonGt Alie St - North House
H BradenDenmark St
Briebach & MoggeDenmark St
H N BrowneAlbert St, Shadwell
O E CoopeBetts St
Craven & LucasRed Lion St
Dames & BowmanOsborne St
J DavisLeman St
J DavisRupert St
Fairrie & CoChurch Lane
J B FriendFieldgate St
Gadesden & Son4 Leman St
Goodhart & CoLimehouse
Goodhart & CoHooper Sq
J Goodhart & SonPennington St
Grant & Co17 St Georges Pl
E Hagen & Co11 Lt Alie St
Hall & BoydBreezers Hill
Hincke & CoPrinces Pl
J HodgsonDock St
Tho HodgsonGoodmans Stile
H R HoltzmeyerJohn St
P KuckThomas St
D Martineau & SonsPrinces Pl
P Martineau & SonGoulston St
M MuhmKing David Lane, Shadwell
Puest & WickeGowers Walk
C SaundersStratford
J SchlenkerDenmark St
J Tringham & SonCoppice Row
Wackerbarth & CoParsons St
J WagenerMansell St
Wainwright & GadesdenChristian St
Partial Sugarhouses & Scum Boilers 
J Bowman & SonGt Alie St - Warehouse
N BurmboomFinch St
Chapman BrosOld Ford
R Chapman & Co53 Drury Lane
J DavisRupert St - Filter Hse & Warehouse
J Gaylor40 Webber Row, Blackfriars
Hall & BoydBreezers Hill - Warehouse
H Henrickson3 Gt Prescott St
T HodgsonGoodmans Stile
R Ramsden7 Brook St, Holborn
D SchwingeChristian St - Scum Boiler
M Wood5 Cleveland St, Mile End

Journal C, 1805-1818 - (from CUL PX5) .....
A large, heavy, leather-bound volume - a working account book of the time, recording share transactions, and premiums from agents and foreign offices worldwide.
I had hoped this would include records of premiums paid by individual policy holders, but, from finding only regular (fortnightly/monthly) payments by certain individuals, it would appear that these were agents through whom the business was conducted.
The share transactions information only ran from 1805 to 1810 when it ceased being recorded in that book. An accountant may interpret the records more accurately, but it would seem that shares were sold/transfered for three main reasons ...
1. Sold to raise money, eg :
    1806 Carsten Holthouse 3 shares ;
    1808 Herman Doorman 4 shares.
2. Transfered within families, eg :
    1806 John Coope (exec) to Joseph Coope 8, W J Coope 12, John Coope 6 ;
    1807 Matthew Whiting 36 shares to John Scott Whiting ;
    1808 Lawrence Charleson 14 to Lawrence Charleson jun ;
    1809 E Goodhart to his sons : Jacob 6, Emanuel 6, Joseph 8.
3. As a form of currency between refiners, eg :
    1808 William Pycroft 14 shares to J H Wackerbarth ;
    1809 Geo Gaviller 2 shares to Tho Wales ;
    1808-1810 John & Martin Bruniges paid annually 1 or 2 shares to Joseph Coope.


Severn & Co v Phoenix, 1820 - (from CUL PX1282-4) .....
My second visit to CUL concentrated on the court case brought by Severn & Co (Severn, King & Co in some listings) as a result of Phoenix refusing to pay a claim following the total destruction, by fire, of their refinery premises in 1819. There is a verbatim account in three handwritten volumes, each some 250 pages, at CUL PX1282-4, and a picture of the destruction is held at the Guildhall Library (click here, then enter 22131 in the search box). The fire was reported in "The Times" ... the new sugarhouse was built in 1819 and burnt down only a few months after having been completed.
The case, which commenced on 13 Dec 1820 with Lord Chief Justice Dallas presiding, was brought by Severn & Co to recover 15000 insured upon the policy on the building of their newly erected sugarhouse situated in Mullberry St, Commercial Rd, adjoining the old sugarhouse and connected by iron doors and brick arches. It was insured for 5000 buildings and 10000 stock/utensils. The normal premium payable would have been double premium for the high risk of the old process, however Severn & Co had been asked to pay 3x double premium, indicating that Phoenix knew the risk they were taking.
It appears that Phoenix would not pay the loss when the sugarhouse burned down, arguing that they had not been officially notified of the alterations made by Severn & Co by installing a new process into the sugarhouse, and that it was this new process that was responsible for the loss.
The first day began with the outlining of the case, followed by detailed descriptions of new processes available at the time to owners of sugarhouses. The "old process" as it was known relied upon fires being kept burning under each of the pans during the long heating processes leading to crystallization ... it was these fires which the insurers considered so dangerous that they regularly increased premiums for the old process. In 1819 there were apparently 3 new alternatives - a) to pass steam through pipes attached to the pans , but it was difficult to control the pressure and so explosion was a big risk, b) to use Mr Howard's vacuum pans, which because a vacuum was involved required less heat and thus was much safer, and c) to use Mr Wilson's method of using oil as a heating medium, which was passed through pipes attached to the pans, and as the oil would not be near it's boiling point was also much safer. This latter process required a single fire to be placed under a closed vessel containing the oil which was then heated to 350 (its boiling point being 650) and was then drawn off to the pans using a pump powered by the company's steam engine. It was found easy to control the temperature of the oil by first bringing it to 360, there being a drop of 10 once the recirculating pump was started. It was this process that had been introduced by Severn & Co, but because of the high expense they had not totally converted to it, leaving old pans in use at the far end of the Long House with the new process at the centre.
Mr William Lockie, the surveyor for Phoenix, had been consulted often during the installation, and one of the Phoenix Directors, Mr J Cope, had inspected the apparatus on a number of occasions with a view to installing it at his own sugarhouse.
Counsel for Severn & Co then set about showing that the fire had begun at an old pan at the far end of the building. This had been lit by Claus Beckhorn very early in the morning. Similarly, Claus Muller, who had been in England for 6 yrs and worked for Severn & Co for 3 yrs, had lit the fire under the new apparatus and was regularly checking the temperature reading on the thermometer as Henry May, who had been in the employ of Severn & Co for 28-30 yrs and was in charge of the steam engine and the pump, needed to know when he could start his machinery. As the temperature rose to close to 350, Muller noticed smoke at the far end of the building and on investigation found that smoke had already spread to adjacent rooms. Muller, May and Beckhorn appear to have been the only workers on the premises, so Counsel then called a series of outside witnesses from the neighbourhood, beginning with the watchmen and then moving to the local residents who arrived to help.
By one of those coincidences which shows what a small tightly-knit community this was in Whitechapel, one of the first people on the scene was James Almeroth, a baker living at the south end of Union St (James was one of the two surviving sons of my 4x gt grandfather, the late Herman Almeroth, sugar refiner). He, like all the other witnesses, was questioned and then cross-examined. He said that ."In the early morning of 10 November [1819] I was woken by the rattles of the watchman and the banging on the doors in Union St I ran out of the house to the end of the street and saw fire in the last window of the sugarhouse building, no others 3 or 4 people were there but no fire engine I ran home to fetch a poker with which to remove the fire plug, and as I returned an engine arrived I broke the poker trying to remove the fire plug but it was then removed with a crowbar I broke the second window and helped play water onto the fire inside." The Judge asked him if there was evidence of fire in any other part of the building he said, "None whatsoever."
The Phoenix engine had arrived somewhat later than the first.
Each of these early witnesses gave the same evidence - that the fire was only in the very end of the building where the old pan was being heated there was no fire near the new process.
Although no witnesses had given any cause for the jury to even think that the fire had started in the new apparatus, on the second day, 14th, the questioning of witnesses concentrated on the new process, and this continued until late into the fourth day. Daniel Wilson the patentee of the oil process was examined in depth, as were a whole series of "experts", showing the process to be safe even with the temperature increased to 380. There was concern though that the thermometer could not actually touch the hot oil, so its accurate temperature could not be recorded.
Towards the end of the fourth day, a number of sugar refiners were called to give evidence about the old process, saying that sugar boiling over did not cause fire, it was the fires under the pans which got out of control. Those called were Frederick Daniel, William Blackstone (refiner for 18 yrs), Christopher George (36 yrs), John Batger (25 yrs), Walter Harbusch (40 yrs), John Fixen (20 yrs), John Richter (8 yrs), and George Wicke jun.
On the fifth and final day, they were back to heating oil again before evidence was heard of a conversation in a public house which implied that the fire had begun an hour or so earlier than stated, but this was evidence from only one person and he thought to have a grievance of some sort. There was then long summing up. The jury retired and returned after 1 hrs giving their verdict as . " In the first part our opinion that the fire broke out in the fill house at the corner of Union St caused by the fire at the old pans. Secondly our opinion that the new process of oil apparatus is less dangerous than the old process. Thirdly our opinion that Severn, King & Co did not give due notice to Phoenix, but we think that the Surveyor and one of the Directors having inspected the new process, Phoenix cannot in fairness plead ignorance of the alteration. Therefore we are all of the opinion that the Plaintiff (Severn & Co) is entitled to the verdict of 15000.
Discussion followed amongst Judge, Counsels and Foreman of the Jury regarding whether notice should have been given. The Judge decided that notice should have been given, but the jury were of the opinion that Severn & Co felt they had no need to as the premises, and so the alteration, had been inspected by Phoenix. The Judge's final words in this case were directed at the jury " Gentlemen - in this case where there is so much doubt, you have decided on the safe side that is my opinion."


[ Frederick Kurzer in his paper on Howard mentions this fire in footnote 119, however it is with reference to a court case between Severn King & Co and the Imperial Insurance Co, implying that Severn & Co had insured the business with more than one Insurance Company. (4) ]



1 - 'Phoenix Assurance & the Development of British Insurance' (2vols) by Clive Trebilcock, Cambridge Univ Press. 1999.
2 - University Archives, Cambridge University Library, West Rd, Cambridge, CB3 9DR.
3 - 'The London Sugar Refineries around 1800' by Walter M Stern, Guildhall Miscellany No 3 (1954).
4 - 'The Life and Work of Edward Charles Howard FRS' by Frederick Kurzer in : "Annals of Science, 56 (2) April 1999, p.113-141". Footnote 119 refers to [Anonymous] 'A Report of the Trial of the Action brought by Messrs Severn King & Co against the Imperial Insurance Company' (London & Liverpool, 1820).