We of to-day who are familiar with the modern practice in fire insurance find it hard to realise how people fared before effective fire insurance existed, and before adequate methods of fire protection and fire extinguishing were known.
One favorite plan of mitigating the disaster caused by fire was the issue of fire briefs. In the first year of Cromwell’s protectorate there was a great fire at Marlborough. A brief was issued hy the Council of State, which says, “That upon Thursday, the 28th April, 1653. the Lord, whose judgments are unsearchable and His ways past finding out, in His overruling providence disposing, a fearful and most violent fire broke out . . . which destroyed . . . . 224 houses, the value whereof and goods consumed is estimated at three score and ten pounds at the least, to the utter undoing of the greater part of the said inhabitants, they not having anything for their future livelihood, and withal to supply the urgent necessities of their languishing families.” The brief goes on to recommend that a collection should be made in London and Westminster and other cities “for the relief of the said inhabitants. and for re-edifying of the said town.” Since it is stated that Cromwell himself gave £2.000 to this cause, we are left puzzling as to the estimated damage having been only £70; perhaps it means an average value of £70 for each house destroyed, in addition to “one of the churches and the market-house.” These briefs led to many frauds, and in the reign of Queen Anne an Act was passed to prevent abuses It was even proposed to raise a permanent fund of voluntary contributions, out of which fire losses should be paid, and the collections were to he made during the visitations of tile bishops. These crude methods of early times are interesting, but we may be thankful that modern Fire Insurance has taken their place.