An East-Anglian county with a rich history, Norfolk borders the counties of Lincolnshire, Cambridgeshire, and Suffolk. Norfolk hosts big-name companies like Aviva (previously Norwich Union), Colman’s, Bernard Matthews Farms, and Lotus Cars.
The city of Norwich is the county town and largest city in Norfolk. It has one of the country’s largest medieval cathedrals, Norwich Cathedral, along with a strong financial history. According to the book, The Social Differentiation of English in Norwich, it was one of the wealthiest towns in England up until the 18th century.
The economy of Norwich in the past was based on manufacturing but moved to a service-based economy in the 1980s and 90s. The greater Norwich economy (measured by GVA) was estimated at £7.4 billion in 2011. The city’s largest employer is in business and financial services (31%), public services (26%), retail (12%), manufacturing (8%) and tourism (7%).
Norwich is home to the globally famous Colman’s brand of yellow mustard, which was founded in 1814, and is now owned by Unilever. The original factory site operated until 2019 but only moved to Honingham, which is still in Norfolk.
For more information about the history of Norwich, go to Visit Norwich’s website here.
Gurney’s – Barclays
Another big company with roots in Norfolk is the bank Barclays. In the mid 18th century, another bank, Gurney’s, would help establish the Barclays we know today. Barclays was made up of Gurney’s, along with banks in Suffolk, Hertfordshire, Cambridgeshire, and Bedfordshire.
The Gurney family were pivotal in the history of banking in East Anglia. They specialised as wool merchants and brewers, but their chief business was banking. Their main bank was founded in 1775 in Norwich, and from their success, more banks followed in Halesworth, Yarmouth, Wisbech, and King’s Lynn.
As a Quaker family, the nature of banking suited the Gurneys very well, and by the nineteenth century, they were one of the leading and wealthiest Quaker families in England. Their banks quickly covered all of East Anglia, and only the Bank of England had more power. Similar to other powerful banking families, the Gurneys contributed to civil projects and a variety of charities.
Another prominent Quaker banking family were the Barclays. In 1896, the Gurneys and the Barclays formed a limited company, due to some moderate failures in the Gurney’s banking companies. They acquired other smaller banks during this process and formed Barclay and Company. The Gurneys and the Barclays were the two biggest shareholders.
East Anglia continued to hold a very strong position in Barclays’ activities throughout the country, until 1918 when Barclays merged with London, Provincial and South Western Bank and British Linen Bank, and in 1925 further merging occurred with the Colonial Bank, National Bank of South Africa, and Anglo-Egyptian bank, for overseas operations. Continued amalgamation made Barclays into the multinational universal bank it is today.
For more information about Barclays’ history in East Anglia, visit their history page here.
Before 2009, Norwich Union was the name of the insurance company Aviva in the UK. Norwich Union was established in 1797 Norwich by a merchant and banker called Thomas Bignold. The name was a bit longer back then – “Norwich Union Society for the Insurance of Houses, Stock, and Merchandise from Fire”. In 1808, Bignold branched out from fire insurance with life insurance and other types of insurance.
One hundred years from its inception, Norwich Union demutualised in 1997 and floated as a public limited company with the London Stock Exchange. Norwich Union merged with CGU in 2000 to form the CGNU (Commercial Union, General Accident and Norwich Union) group. In 2009, the Norwich Union name would be phased out to use the global brand name of Aviva.
After the inception of the new name, Aviva made the decision to focus on commercial insurance and demonstrate commitment to brokers through launching a ‘find a broker’ option, which used the British Insurance Brokers Association search engine to do this.
In 2012, Aviva planned to sell or close 16 non-core businesses to simplify and increase shareholder returns. Also in 2012, Aviva sold its Aviva USA Corporation for 1.8 billion dollars. More dealings took place in 2015 when Aviva completed a £5.6 billion takeover of Friends Life Group.
Today, Aviva continues to be a global player in the insurance market. It is an FTSE 100 company.
For more information about the Aviva rebrand and its history and future operations, visit Aviva’s website here.
Norwich and the surrounding Norfolk area have both played roles in the financial history of the country, from the Gurneys and Barclays, to Norwich Union and Aviva.
Here at Together Accounting, we take an avid interest in all things financial. It is our belief that there are lessons to be learnt from the financial past of our country, and this is why we do research for articles like this. We hope you’ve learnt something and enjoyed reading, and if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to get in touch.