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Heath, Cuthbert Edenunlocked

(1859–1939)
  • Robin Pearson

Heath, Cuthbert Eden (1859–1939), underwriter and insurance broker, was born on 23 March 1859 at Forest Lodge, near Southampton, the fourth of the seven children of Captain Leopold George Heath RN (1817–1907), and his wife, Mary Emma, née Marsh. His father had a brilliant naval career, being knighted in 1868 and promoted to rear-admiral in 1871. Heath was educated privately until the age of eight, then followed his brothers to Temple Grove preparatory school, East Sheen, and to Brighton College. Partial deafness prevented him from entering the navy, and he remained at Brighton College until 1874; he later went to France and Germany for two years to study languages. In 1876 he joined the insurance brokers Henry Head & Co. as a junior clerk. He later said that he was regarded in his youth as 'the fool of his family', 'poor Bertie', who, because of his disability, had to go into a respectable but dull job in the City (Brown, Cuthbert Heath, 62).

In 1880, aged twenty-one, Heath joined a Lloyd's syndicate, helped by a loan of £7000 from his father. In 1881 he began marine underwriting for himself and three ‘names’, and extended this to broking from 1883. In 1885 his father, who was a director of the Hand in Hand Fire Office, invited Heath to reinsure its fire risks. Traditionally Lloyd's had ignored such business, although there was nothing in its rules to prevent it. In the following years Heath instigated a series of radical innovations which amazed his fellow underwriters and changed the face of Lloyd's for ever. He became 'the most original talent ever produced by the insurance industry of this or any other country' (ibid., 75). Heath's innovations included the first American non-marine risk underwritten at Lloyd's, insurance against loss of profits through fire (which the tariff offices complained would ruin fire insurance), ‘all risks’ policies against accidental loss, ‘jeweller's block’ policies to cover diamonds in transit, insurance against burglary (1887), earthquakes (1895), smallpox (1901), workmen's compensation (1906), and air-raid damage (1914), and excess of loss reinsurance. From the 1890s he helped to develop trade credit insurance, and became the first chairman of the Trade Indemnity Company in 1918. From 1919 to 1921 he ventured, unsuccessfully, into aviation insurance. In 1926 Heath also helped to introduce to London a cheaper system of establishing premium rates for reinsurances.

In 1890 Heath established C. E. Heath & Co. which became a substantial independent broking firm with considerable overseas business. In 1894, faced with a need for greater capacity for non-marine business, he established the Excess Insurance Company. His practice of writing (doing business) for the Excess from his ‘box’ (working area) at Lloyd's, however, got him into repeated trouble for breaking the rule banning company underwriting there. Over this and many other matters, Heath had, as one Lloyd's chairman, Neville Dixey, put it 'a fine disregard for conventions' (quoted in obituary, Post Magazine). Standing 6 foot 2 inches tall, carrying his familiar black box for his hearing aid, courteous, soft-spoken, and popular with the brokers, Cuthbert Heath was a striking figure at Lloyd's.

In 1902 Heath finally persuaded Lloyd's to accept security deposits for non-marine business. In 1908 Lloyd's also accepted Heath's idea of introducing a compulsory audit of members' accounts. The annual audit, together with the incorporation of non-marine business in the second Lloyd's Act of 1913, became the cornerstone of Lloyd's solidity for most of the twentieth century. Most of Heath's innovations arose, however, from others' suggestions. His flair lay in recognizing opportunities and in rating novel risks quickly and accurately, if sometimes intuitively. He was undoubtedly one of the most dynamic figures at Lloyd's in the early twentieth century. 'No other individual had such a profound effect on the scope of the business, its institutions and its competitive structure' (Westall, 140). He led the market 'in the literal sense that many risks were only undertaken when it was clear that Heath was first involved'. In 1911 he was elected to Lloyd's committee, and served for four years. During the 1920s Heath withdrew from daily business at Lloyd's, but his syndicate continued to lead the non-marine market. By the 1930s his annual income was estimated to be £60,000, and his syndicate was writing for 300 members. At the time of his death his estate was valued at just over £1m gross.

In 1891 Heath married Sarah Caroline Gore Gambier (1859–1944), daughter of the Revd Charles Gore Gambier and his wife, Elizabeth. A son, Leopold Cuthbert, and a daughter, Genesta, were born in 1894 and 1897. In 1907 Heath moved into Anstie Grange, Holmwood, near Dorking, which his late father had built in 1863. Heath's wife entertained lavishly—employing fifty servants at Anstie—with guests drawn from London's social élite. Heath himself, diffident, a little austere, and shy by nature, preferred country walks and enjoyed fishing, shooting, and hunting. In 1918 he became joint master of the Surrey Union hounds. In 1929 he gave 200 acres near Leith Hill to the National Trust for conservation.

During the First World War Heath advised the government on air-raid insurance and was appointed a trustee for Lloyd's Patriotic Fund. Anstie Grange was converted, at his own expense, into an officers' hospital, through which nearly 700 patients passed between 1916 and 1918. Heath was made an OBE in 1920 and was also a knight of grace of the order of St John of Jerusalem. He served as high sheriff of Surrey in 1925–6, and as deputy lieutenant from 1928.

Heath was a member of the Royal Yacht Squadron, and in later years often sailed his yacht in winter in the Mediterranean. In 1930 he purchased a small estate, La Domaine de Savaric, at Èze in the Alpes-Maritimes. He relaxed with reading, and his paint-box of water colours. In 1938 he suffered a stroke, which left him partially paralysed. He died at Anstie Grange on 8 March 1939, and was cremated in a private ceremony. His ashes were interred on 11 March 1939 at Coldharbour church, Holmwood, Surrey.

Sources

  • A. Brown, Cuthbert Heath: maker of the modern Lloyd's of London (1980)
  • O. M. Westall, ‘Heath, Cuthbert Eden’, DBB
  • The Times (9 March 1939)
  • The Times (11 March 1939)
  • Post Magazine and Insurance Monitor (18 March 1939)
  • The Policyholder (15 March 1939)
  • D. E. W. Gibb, Lloyd's of London: a study in individualism (1957)
  • H. Cockerell, Lloyd's of London: a portrait (1984)
  • R. Strauss, Lloyd's: a historical sketch (1937)
  • A. Brown, Hazard unlimited: from ships to satellites, 300 years of Lloyd's of London, 3rd edn (1987)
  • C. Wright and C. E. Fayle, A history of Lloyd's from the founding of Lloyd's Coffee House to the present day (1928)
  • W. A. Dinsdale, History of accident insurance in Great Britain (1954)

Likenesses

  • W. Orpen, oils, 1921, C. E. Heath & Co.
  • J. Hay, oils, 1928, Excess Insurance Co. Ltd
  • J. Hay, oils, 1936, Lloyd's of London

Wealth at Death

£1,031,060 17s. 5d.: probate, 20 May 1940, CGPLA Eng. & Wales

(1920–)
D. J. Jeremy, ed., , 5 vols. (1984–6)