A worldwide view of risk

25th April 2003 at 01:00
Risky Business: the history of General Accident until end September Perth Museum and Art Gallery tel 01738 632488

An exhibition charting the history of General Accident, the Scottish insurance company that sold policies covering the racehorse Shergar, Ann Hathaway's cottage and senior crew members of the Titanic, has opened in Perth.

General Accident, which went on to become the third biggest company in Scotland, was set up in Perth in 1885 by four local men. It particularly targetted farmers who, as well as other employers, had recently become liable to pay compensation to employees for death and injury at work.

After two years, Francis Norie-Miller joined and it was his vision and drive that turned GA into an international corporation which at one time had 17,000 staff in offices (including a hut in Malaya) throughout the world. Its headquarters remained in Perth, growing from two rooms in Tay Street to a pound;33 million complex with a training college and leisure facilities, until 1998, when GA and Commercial Union merged to form CGU (which merged with Norwich Union in 2000).

GA employees not only worked together, they played together too. As early as 1899, annual company outings were being organised and photographs covering 100 years show workers enjoying themselves at various holiday locations, staff dinners and other functions.

Norie-Miller, and his son after him, kept employees on a tight rein, strongly resisting unionisation, doling out pens on a strictly individual basis (and only after the old one had been handed in) and banning "unnecessary noise, conversation and laughter" in the work place.

Nevertheless, a job with GA was seen as an excellent career choice and generations of many Perthshire families worked for the company, with some staff staying on as long as 49 years.

Risky Business has been designed to appeal even to primary school pupils and features an old-fashioned office activity area equipped with overalls, dial telephones, fountain pens and blotting paper. There is also film, a car accident floor game and a preserved Austin Seven, Britain's first mass market vehicle.

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