180 years of Post: The magazine that shook up insurance

the magazine that shook up insurance

Post Magazine first appeared on Saturday 25 July 1840, just seven months after the introduction of the Penny Post and was the first publication anywhere in the world to be sent by post – hence its name. It, therefore, ranks among one of the most significant commercial innovations of the nineteenth century

Fittingly, for such an historic publication, Post Magazine’s first offices were situated at the heart of the publishing industry just off London’s famous Fleet Street at three and a half Wine Office Court. These offices were destroyed during the Second World War but the adjacent buildings are still there opposite Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese.

Ever since the first edition of Post, its 21 known editors have charted the development of the insurance industry without a break, publishing approaching 9000 issues with many hundreds of supplements and special editions along the way.

It was a bold move back in 1840 to create a magazine devoted to insurance that would be sent by an untried postal system. Sir Rowland Hill’s Penny Post replaced an expensive postal service that would have made any publishing venture economically impossible. It cost 8d (3.5p) to send a letter from London to Birmingham and 11d (4.5p) from the capital to Liverpool. The new system cut that to 1d (0.5p). On the front of the first issue, Post Magazine summed up the opportunity it was exploiting – “Remarkable Application Of The Reduced Postage”, it declared.

The man who saw and seized the opportunity created by the postal innovations was John Hooper Hartnoll. There is nothing to tell us why he thought insurance, in particular life assurance and marine insurance, would prove sufficiently attractive subjects for his new magazine. He was by all accounts a reserved man with literary tastes and a special interest in mathematics, which he taught at Greenwich Hospital Upper School before seeking a career in publishing. It was perhaps the huge advances in scientific life assurance and actuarial science that appealed to his mathematical brain and which drew him to the subject. He also revealed something of a passion for life assurance in his “address” in the first issue, where he discussed “persons whose circumstances and the interests of whose families imperatively demand the precautionary measure of insuring their lives”.

When he launched Post Magazine, he was already editor of the Kentish Mercury: he maintained that dual role for several years after the launch of Post Magazine. He needed a publisher and printer for his new venture and found one in William Slater Dixon Pateman and it appears they jointly owned the new venture. When Pateman died in the early 1860s, Hartnoll took over sole ownership of the magazine.

The original Post Magazine had a blank page designed for head offices to add news of their own company’s activities before sending copies of the magazine on to their own agents, giving it a readership far beyond the 5000 copies printed each week.

Post first issue
The very first edition of Post Magazine

Scandals of the age

The 1840s were marked by a succession of scandals involving so called bubble insurance companies, which parted people from their money without ever intending to provide cover. These were a frequent target of Hartnoll’s journalism and led to a steady flow of libel writs, with as many as three cases on the go at once. He rarely lost.

In October 1853, Hartnoll and Pateman launched a monthly magazine, Insurance Monitor, to concentrate on exploring in more detail the affairs of some of the more dubious life assurance companies but after just four issues it was announced “that henceforth the Post Magazine and Insurance Monitor will be one”. The secondary name – “and Insurance Monitor” – was only dropped from the masthead in 1986.

Hartnoll died on 6 June 1870 after almost exactly 30 years in the editor’s chair. His obituary recorded his contribution to the publication and to the industry: “The way in which it [Post Magazine] unearthed many of the schemers of that day, laid bare their devices, and fairly drove them from the field of plunder, and in some cases, even from the country, will never, and should never, be forgotten.”

Early adopter of diversity

After his death, Hartnoll’s widow, Christina took up the reins, although she passed on the day-to-day responsibility for editing the magazine to others whose names remain unrecorded. When she died in 1877, the magazine passed into the hands of William John Stokes and then Harry Salmon Hughes.

The magazine became an uncritical mouthpiece for insurance companies, so much so that when Thos WJ Buckley took over the magazine in 1883 he was moved to describe what had just passed as “evil days” for the publication.

The Buckley name was to remain associated with Post Magazine for over 100 years as Buckley’s sons – John and Thomas – formed the printing and publishing company Buckley Press in 1926. This was bought by Timothy Benn in 1985, although the magazine was still published under the Buckley Press imprint until the early 1990s.

Buckley worked in the insurance industry with the Western Counties and London Life for 20 years before acquiring Post Magazine. He was a lifelong Liberal and must have taken great pride in recording the introduction of National Insurance and old age pensions in Lloyd George’s radical 1908 budget. The next eight years saw the editor’s chair occupied by ST Bennell, who guided the publication through the difficult years of the First World War, before resigning to return to the insurance industry in 1919.

He was succeeded by Charles Herbert Jackson who was destined to become the third editor to die in office. Jackson brought considerable experience with him to Post Magazine when he took over as editor at the age of 42. His father had been assistant secretary of Royal Insurance in London and he himself had spent time as private secretary to Theodore Roosevelt, later to become President of the US.

On his death in July 1930, he was succeeded by Henry Hepple Thubrun, universally known as Harry, whose reign was to be the longest in the magazine’s history.

Thubrun started his career in his native Newcastle upon Tyne with the Employers’ Liability Assurance Corporation before moving to London to become a tutor in insurance at the Metropolitan College. He joined the staff of Post Magazine in September 1929 as assistant editor.

One of Thubrun’s early decisions was to recruit as his deputy a young journalist, Alan Nelson-Smith. Theirs was to be a remarkable partnership that saw Post Magazine assume a position of unrivalled authority and respect in the insurance industry.

This team gradually reshaped the magazine, giving it a more modern image by introducing a new design, eventually moving in the late 1930s to the blue cover with the City skyline that was to remain a familiar feature of Post Magazine for nearly 40 years.

A reserved position

It was to Thubrun that the difficult task of keeping Post Magazine going throughout the Second World War fell, as the proprietors refused to apply to make the deputy editor’s position a reserved occupation beyond 1942. Nelson-Smith served the latter part of the war at the Ministry of Aircraft Production as poor eyesight prevented him taking up active service.

The offices were by then in St Andrew Street, just off Fleet Street and in the heart of the City of London less than half a mile away from St Paul’s Cathedral. During April and May 1941 these offices were hit by incendiary bombs. On 16 April 1941, part of 20 St Andrew Street was damaged by fire and some of the printing machinery was temporarily put out of action. The writing and production of the magazine were moved to the Solicitor’s Law Stationery Society’s building in Fetter Lane while the offices were repaired and the printing was carried out by Buckley Press’s printers on another company’s presses.

No sooner had Post Magazine’s offices been re-occupied and the presses repaired, than the Luftwaffe struck again on the weekend of the 10 and 11 May 1941. Everything was lost bar some editorial and administrative records that were in another building. A special report to the directors from company secretary Edward Hobson records the devastation: “There was no question of preventing this fire. Flames which had travelled alongside both sides of Thavies Inn destroyed every building from one end to the other, and swept along the backs of the buildings in St Andrew Street, down Shoe Lane, St Bride Street, Farringdon Avenue and Stonecutter Street.”

Through all of this not a single issue was lost and only one or two came out a few days late, a great testament to the dedication and professionalism of Thubrun and his remaining editorial and production team.

Following the second bombing, the production of the magazine was moved out to The Butts at Brentford where it was printed by Walter Pearce, later to be acquired by Buckley Press. The editorial office moved to the Aldwych where Thubrun had to cope singlehanded from 1942 to the end of the war.

St Pauls war
Post’s offices were bombed twice during the Blitz

After the war, Post Magazine flourished once more as Nelson-Smith rejoined his old boss. The magazine expanded as quickly as paper shortages would allow and settled into offices in Aldwych and then just around the corner in Henrietta Street. Post Magazine was joined in 1969 by a new monthly, Reinsurance, which was launched to cover this specialist market with Alan Nelson-Smith as its first editor.

Nelson-Smith eventually succeeded to the editor’s chair in 1971, following Thubrun’s retirement after more than 41 years at the helm, the longest term of any of the editors of Post Magazine.

Nelson-Smith himself retired at the end of 1975, although he continued to write for the title until his death on 21 December 1981 at the age of 76. When his last column appeared a month later on 28 January 1982, so ended and era that stretched back to Harry Thubrun’s appointment in 1929: between them they served Post Magazine for 98 years.

The Nelson-Smith name remained prominent in the insurance industry for many years afterwards, however, as his son Mike qualified as a loss adjuster and served as president of the Insurance Institute of Birmingham and as a representative on the Chartered Insurance Council.

In 1975, Nelson-Smith was succeeded as editor by his deputy of two years, Guy Averill, who had joined from The Scotsman, where he had been a racing correspondent. His was the shortest reign lasting just three months.

Peter Gartland’s early career bore a remarkable similarity to that of Harry Thubrun – who was actually on the interview panel that appointed him. He started his working life at Zurich Insurance where he had become marketing controller before moving on to be a lecturer in insurance and business studies.

Before his premature death some years later he fondly recalled his days at Post Magazine: “It was the era of the Lloyd’s scandals, threats of nationalisation of insurance companies and the coming together of insurance brokers under one representative roof. Following South African activist Steve Biko’s death, I wrote a tough piece urging numerous British insurance companies that had subsidiaries in South Africa to do more for their black employees, lest they be kicked out when the political situation changed. It resulted in a small sackful of readers’ letters, mostly telling me not to interfere in things I didn’t understand. I published as many of these hostile epistles as space would allow.”

Going full colour

Gartland’s editorship saw the first significant changes in the magazine’s style for some years with the more modern division between news, features and comment being adopted, the by then famous 40 year old blue cover going and colour advertising appearing in the magazine. Towards the end of 1976, the editorial office moved out of central London for the only time to The Butts in Brentford where Buckley Press had its print works.

When Gartland left in1981, Fennell Betson took over. Betson had a father who had worked in the industry – as an insurance broker in Dublin. He quickly established a reputation for using his natural Irish charm to tease out of the great and the good the best stories in the market.

When he left in 1984, Jenny Harris succeeded him. It fell to her to steer Post Magazine through four major upheavals – one change of ownership, one change of printing method and two office moves.

The whole company was bought by Timothy Benn, whose father, Sir John Benn, had been chairman and managing director of UK Provident Institution for almost 20 years. One of the early changes under the new ownership was a change in the production method from the old style hot metal printing Post Magazine had used from its birth to computerised typesetting.

Next, the offices were moved from The Butts to Temple Chambers, just off Fleet Street and then a few months later to some recently refurbished offices at 58 Fleet Street, almost opposite Wine Office Court where Post Magazine was founded a century and a half earlier.

This period also saw the acquisition of Insurance Week, which had been known as Policy Holder until its unsuccessful relaunch the previous year. This was subsequently merged into Post Magazine.

In early 1986, David Worsfold arrived to take over the editorship after four years of editing Insurance Age. He inherited a magazine that faced new challenges to its leadership of the insurance industry and looked increasingly like a publication from a past era.

He set about creating a complete redesign of the magazine. The new design was a radical departure from what had gone before and that had changed little since the 1930s. The advertisement on the front cover went and was replaced by a full colour editorial cover with a striking new logo – a large red P. Inside, the change was equally dramatic as Post Magazine literally leapt towards the 1990s.

The first issue with the new design appeared on 4 September 1986 and virtually everything changed – except the title. As the approach to 1990 and the 150th anniversary began David Worsfold was promoted to editor-in-chief looking after Reinsurance and the books and technical manuals that came when Stone & Cox was purchased in 1988.

The high profile 150th anniversary celebrations were used as a launchpad for a range of developments – including a 240-page anniversary edition. The first award was launched, a Risk Manager of the Year, in conjunction with Cigna, soon to be followed by a Claims Manager of the Year in partnership with law firm Wansbrough Willey Hardgrave’s – now Beachcrofts. Post Magazine also held its first conference in 1990, paving the way for its flourishing present day conference programme.

Liz Taylor - first Risk Management Awards
Liz Taylor, winner of the first Risk Manager of the Year Award in 1990

In 1989, the editorship had passed to Joe Layburn but he was soon lured away to the glamour of television. He was succeeded by Alyson Rudd who took Post Magazine through its next major change, the transformation into a tabloid news format in February 1993, before going on to be the launch editor of sister title Professional Broking in May 1994.

Stephen Womack took over as editor and significantly increased the news content, also adding a diverse supplement programme to the magazine’s regular mix.

The British Insurance Awards

One of the most significant developments of recent times saw the light of day in 1995 when the British Insurance Awards was launched. Then publisher, the late Matthew Townsend, saw the opportunity to bring together the various stand-alone award initiatives that Post Magazine had initiated over the previous few years to create a single, major award scheme for the industry. The British Insurance Awards were first presented at Grosvenor House in July 1995. Today, they are held annually at the Royal Albert Hall before almost 2000 people and attract hundreds of entries from every sector of the market. They are the largest business-to-business award scheme in the country.

Post Magazine was on the move again in 1996, as it left Fleet Street for the second time, this time for the trendy surrounds of Covent Garden. Stephen Womack moved on and David Worsfold took over the day-to-day editorship again.
In November 1997, Timothy Benn ended his 12 year ownership of the company in a £16m management buy-in that put Roger Michael and Matthew Townsend at the helm, and a new editor eventually followed with the appointment of Anthony Gould from another historic weekly – The Engineer ­– in January 1999.

silver BIA
The British Insurance Awards enjoyed 25 years of celebrating the best of the industry in 2019

The world wide web

Gould’s appointment marked the start of another new era, and saw the launch of Post Magazine’s first online initiative, postonline.co.uk, a daily breaking news and magazine archive based website that now delivers an essential service to Post Magazine readers and all those in the insurance industry. This period also saw a number of major news events – from the collapse of Independent Insurance to the terrorist attacks in the US of 11 September 2001 on the World Trade Center which impacted the insurance industry in terms of the loss of many staff and colleagues, and of course financially.

It was during this period that Post Magazine’s conference and event programme also really began to gather pace providing a range of in-depth strategic and operational conferences, seminars, road shows and eventually the launch of some members clubs.

Ownership of the magazine also changed again, with a major merger with City Financial Publishing, headed up by Tim Weller in July 2000 to form Incisive Media. This was floated on the London Stock Exchange in December 2000 with a valuation of £71m. Two years later the magazine moved from its Covent Garden base to new offices in Haymarket, Piccadilly.

In July 2003, Incisive Media acquired monthly broking title Insurance Age and Gould was made editor-in-chief of the new acquisition and Post Magazine. At the end of 2005 Anthony Gould was made editor-in-chief of Incisive Media’s insurance division – covering Post Magazine, Insurance Age, Professional Broking, Reinsurance Magazine and Cover.

This move paved the way for Post Magazine’s news editor Jonathan Swift to step up to the editorship and under his stewardship the magazine went from strength-to-strength in both print and online forms, winning a raft of journalism awards.

In September 2006, Post Magazine was given a major redesign, putting the onus on Post, rather than Post Magazine, enabling the title to develop going forward with Post Online - its web-based service - and with Post Events, via its range of successful conferences, seminars, round-tables and other events.

Since then the rich media – video and audio – content of Postonline.co.uk was developed as Post acquired its own recording studio following Incisive Media’s acquisition of VNU. This acquisition also saw the title move to Broadwick Street for several years. Reinsurance Magazine was sold during this time and Professional Broking was rolled into Insurance Age.

In 2011, with Swift assuming the position of editor-in-chief, Lynn Rouse, who joined the brand for a work experience placement and also worked as features editor and deputy editor, took on the editorship. Under her stewardship, Post launched its first weekly app to the market and during this time the white paper library and lead generation service Insurance Hound was introduced.

When Rouse left to work for international broker AJ Gallagher in 2013, the editorship then moved to Stephanie Denton, who joined the brand in 2004 as a reporter and also held roles including senior reporter, supplements editor and special projects editor.

POST Editors Dinner-008
In 2015, Post gathered together former editors for a roundtable on media perception. Back row, l-r: Joe Layburn; Jonathan Swift; the CII’s then director of communications David Ross; and David Worsfold. Front row, l-r: Alyson Rudd; Stephen Womack; Ant Gould; and Lynn Rouse

Still in situ today, Denton has taken the title into the modern era with the Post Live app launching – a continuously updated content app, which became responsive across all platforms in 2016.

Also that year, Denton oversaw the switch from publishing weekly to monthly, introducing the high quality magazine we know today – publishing the first monthly edition in May 2016 along with a redesigned website reflecting reader demands for online daily content and breaking news with longer form detailed analysis in print. In an age of search engine optimisation, Post also added ‘Insurance’ to its moniker to become Insurance Post, a title it had been affectionately known by for years.

May 2016 cover
Post unveiled a bold new look as it moved from a weekly to a monthly publication in 2016

Denton has seen several office moves – first taking the title back to Haymarket and then onto its existing offices in Houndsditch – and a change of ownership when Incisive Media split its business into two, with the majority of its subscription titles in its Insight Division – including Post - being sold to French business-to-business publisher Infopro Digital.

Throughout this time – and across its 180-year history – Post has remained a supporter and constructive critic of the insurance sector. Although publishing across many mediums now it continues to look for the story beneath the news and add value to its readers whether writing about Lloyd’s, claims, personal lines, commercial lines or regulation.


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