Insuring property against fire – ‘Plates’ and ‘Plaques’


Royal ‘Fire Plate’ provided by the Smith family who still farm at ‘Oak Tree Farm’, Newton Lane, Tattenhall.

‘Fire Plates’ are the thin metal plaques or plates which were positioned high up on a building by an Insurance Company and which confirmed that the property was insured.

All the known ‘Fire Plates’ in our village relate to the ‘Royal’ Insurance Company. Embossing the ‘Fire Plates’ with  recognisable emblems provided a perfect advertising opportunity to the insurer. In the case of the ‘Royal’, the emblem was the ‘Liver Bird’.

The ‘Fire Plates’ positioned on buildings in our village do not have policy numbers stamped upon them and represent examples of the later type of 19th century plates.

The ‘Fire Plate’ to the left was originally fixed to a farm building at Oak Tree Farm, Newton Lane, Tattenhall. When the building burned down in about 1960, the ‘Fire Plate’ was recovered and kept by the family.

The first of the ‘Fire Plates’ on Tattenhall High Street can be seen high up on the brickwork of No 3 High Street (currently the newly developed ‘Fish and Chips @ No : 3’) – shown below.

Both images relate to the ‘Royal’ Insurance Company.

The other, less easy to spot, is located high on the wall of the residence known as ‘The Cottage’ which is located to the right of ‘Tattenhall News’ (shown below). This also relates to the Royal Insurance Company.

‘Fire Plates’ in our village not only display the distinctive name of the insurer but were attached to the front of the buildings at a height which could be seen from the street but which was sufficiently high to be out of reach of thieves. Mindful that most buildings were not numbered in the early 19th century, some form of identification was necessary. The ‘Fire Plates’, therefore, ensured that the identification of the property was easier for both the fire fighters and for the insurance company representatives.

Historically, no claim was paid out until the plaque or plate from the burnt-out building was actually produced as evidence of its being covered. This is why the ‘Fire Plaques’ and ‘Plates’ were made of metal which would not be consumed in any blaze and why the policy number was frequently stamped upon them. Fraudulent claims were sometimes made by individuals who stole ‘Fire Plaques’ or ‘Plates’ from other buildings and nailed them to their own. To prevent this, the ‘Fire Plaque’ or ‘Plate’ was always placed as high as practical, usually between the windows on the first floor (as is the case in our village). 

Early example of a ‘Fire Plaque’ showing insurance policy number and company emblem i.e. the ‘Sun’, representing the ‘Sun Fire Office’. No such examples exist in Tattenhall (regrettably).

Initially, the Insurance Companies organised their own fire brigades to protect buildings as shown in the Hogarth print below. This practice was abandoned, of course, with the development of formal ‘fire brigades’. The fixing of ‘Fire Plaques’ or ‘Plates’ to buildings became obsolete, therefore, during the second half of the 19th century.



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