Bizarre tales of quirky claims and a former “man from the Pru” who used to ride his horse through the streets of Hedon illuminate the archive of a firm which has become one of the insurance sector’s great survivors.
The business story is how Hedon Insurance has thrived by maintaining an outlet for a personal service, firstly in the face of competition from insurance call centres and then from the explosion of online insurance services.
But the internet doesn’t bring the intimacy of direct contact with people and, as the firm has expanded from Hedon to Hornsea and then to Hull and Cottingham, it has generated a wealth of anecdotes.
Ann Sheppard, the longest serving employee, who joined in 1981, explains:
“There was once someone who had a chip pan fire and made a claim for burning his tea towel whilst putting the fire out. He wanted £1.99 and we had to point out that the excess was £25!”
“Then there was a van driver who had a fly in his cab, he clapped his hands together to try and catch it – his claimed actually stated ‘As I killed the fly I ran into the car in front.”
The business was launched by Jeffrey Cladingbowl, who left the Prudential to set it up in 1969. Chris Kitchen, who joined him in 1974 and is now retired, remembers a man who worked hard, looked after his staff and enjoyed life.
“He was always Mister Cladingbowl, never Jeffrey, and he lived above the office. There was a garden with a boat. He used to go fishing from Tunstall. He also had a horse which he used to ride all over the place. People called him the squire of Hedon!
“For a time, we had an office in Barton and we used to go across on the ferry every other Christmas to one of the early Chinese restaurants. It was the first time I can remember drinking wine!”
Mr Cladingbowl sold the business in 1987 and retired to South Africa, where his family remained after his death. The new owners sold the business on after just two years to Mike Medforth, who was calling time on a career travelling the world with Smith & Nephew and Reckitts.
Mike, who lives in Skirlaugh, said:
“The office had bare walls and a bare floor. There was one phone, an electric typewriter with a key missing and an Atari computer.”
Mike recalls there being around 20 different independent insurance businesses in Hull at the time, compared with a listing of more than 200 in the Yellow Pages insurance classification when Hedon Insurance opened in 1969.
Competition was intensifying from new firms, such as Direct Line, creating a new ‘channel’ with a combination of TV advertising and telephone call centres. But Jeffrey Cladingbowl had left strong foundations as a result of his own contacts, attracting start-up businesses. Joiners, builders, engineers, farmers, haulage firms across the region all went to Hedon Insurance and many brought their domestic, motor, travel and other insurance requirements.
“We have always had a good mix of customers. Mike introduced computers which, although basic in those days, changed how we did things but good product and market knowledge has always been important. We knew for example that Zurich always did deals for Ford cars. Cloverleaf and London and Edinburgh were good for people with convictions.
“More recently we helped someone who completed their policy online but didn’t declare a medical condition. Another lady said she’d got cheaper home insurance but didn’t realise it didn’t include flood cover. Any claim in those circumstances would not have been valid.”
Current Managing Director, Anne Walters, joined the business in 1993 and has driven its expansion since 2006.
“When I started there were just six of us and now there are 24 – including our commercial operation, HI Commercial. I believe that we are a lot more ‘visible’ than we used to be. We have so many clients who have been with us for many years and they recognise and value the continuity provided by our staff, many of whom have been with us for a very long time.
“We are committed to continuing to provide a face to face service because there are so many clients who rely on us for that. Our biggest concern in this area has been flooding and we still talk about the time in the 1990s, when Hedon flooded in the middle of summer – after a hail storm. Our office was under water, so we knew first-hand what it was like long before the floods that everybody remembers from 2007!”