Back Lane and the Holly Bush

On our VirtualTourist walking tour of Hampstead, we went through a street called Back Lane, where we came across this house (at 1 Back Lane) with an 18th century “Assurance” plaque on its brick façade. Sarah explained that in those days each insurance company had its own fire brigade. Before extinguishing a fire, the brigade would check to see that the house was insured by its own company, otherwise they would presumably let it burn down. (Have I understood this correctly?)

London Assurance Incorporated A.D. 1720

Sometime in twelve months before our visit, the “Assurance” plaque had been painted black. On the Google Street View imagery from July 2014, it was still a light tan color and the windows still had green flower boxes. In their current imagery, from 2019, the house looks the same as on my photos. The lettering on the plaque reads “London Assurance Incorporated A.D. 1720”.

Nowadays, if I have understood correctly, the word assurance is still used in British English for insurance against events that are certain rather than just possible, particularly for ‘life assurance’. So either the usage of the word has changed in the meantime or it was practically certain in the 18th century that any house would catch fire sooner or later. I’m uncertain about this because in American English assurance and insurance are two totally different concepts, with no overlap.

Also, I was surprised by the use of the word ‘incorporated’ on the plaque. This word is still used routinely in American English (usually abbreviated to Inc.), but as far as I know it would usually be Limited (Ltd) or Public Limited Company (plc) in modern British English.

The Holly Bush at 22 Hollymount, Hampstead

Just a two- or three-minute walk from Back Lane is The Holly Bush, which Colin said is where he sometimes takes visitors who ask to see ‘an authentic British pub’. The Holly Bush is over two hundred years old, and its first-floor dining room was originally the studio of an 18th century portrait artist, George Romney (1734-1802).

The slogan on the back of Holger’s blue T-shirt reads: “I’m one of The people behind the places”, which except for the first three words was one of the slogans of the now-defunct website VirtualTourist.

Sign and VirtualTourist members at the Holly Bush

This sign out in front of the Holly Bush read: “It’s only taken 200 years. We have Aircon!” The air conditioning was not turned on when we were there, however, which is why some of us went and stood outside at the open window for part of the time.

My photos in this post are from 2015. I revised the text in 2021.

Next: The summit, so to speak.

5 thoughts on “Back Lane and the Holly Bush”

    1. I hope the ‘wrong’ fire brigade would at least get out of the way, so as not to interfere with the ‘right’ one when it comes to fight the fire.

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