Post Magazine: A brief history

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, its first offices were situated at the heart of the publishing industry just off London's famous Fleet Street at 31/2 (three and a half) Wine Office Court. These were destroyed during the Second World War but the adjacent buildings are still there opposite Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, surely an early watering hole for Post Magazine staff.

During the succeeding 165 years, Post Magazine has charted the development of the insurance industry week in, week out, without a break, publishing over 8400 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 which 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, would prove a sufficiently attractive subject 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 new 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. This was popular in the early years until special rates for postage of periodicals were introduced in the late 1840s. After this it was more economical for companies to place bulk order for their branch offices direct with the publishers.

Hartnoll and Pateman also launched the Post Magazine Almanac in 1843, still published today as the Insurance Directory and popularly known as the Green Book.

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 insurance 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.

Not everything he did proved successful, however. 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 assurance companies but this was not a success and 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.

John 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.

"How eagerly were the numbers sought after - yet how many dreaded the day of publication. That in some cases the shutters were put up and the offices deserted within an hour after the magazine had left the printing office are now matters of simple history".

After his death, John Hartnoll's widow, Christiana 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, neither of whom seem to have acquitted themselves well.

The magazine became an uncritical mouthpiece for insurance companies, so much so that when Thos W J Buckley took over the magazine in 1883 he was moved to described 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 Thos 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 through until the early 1990s.

Back to the 19th century and the resurgence of Post Magazine under Thos Buckley.

He was born in 1840 just a few months before the magazine's debut and 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. This Budget was finally passed after a long constitutional battle with the House of Lords in the summer of 1911, just a few months before Thos Buckley's death on 2 December that year.

The next eight years saw the editor's chair occupied by Mr S T Bennell, who guided the publication through the difficult years of World War I, before resigning to return to the insurance industry in 1919.

He was succeeded by Charles Jackson who was destined to become the third editor to die in office.

Charles Herbert 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: his son never worked in the insurance industry, choosing instead journalism as his main career. Charles Jackson worked for a variety of newspapers here and in the US, where he also 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.

Harry Thubrun was born in 1905 and 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 Harry 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 worked hard to maintain Post Magazine at the top of the insurance press throughout the very competitive years of the 1930s. They gradually re-shaped it, 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.

It was to Harry 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. Alan Nelson-Smith served the latter part of the war at the Ministry of Aircraft Production as poor eyesight prevented him taking up active service. However, he stayed loving enough to share with Harry Thubrun the greatest crisis in the magazine's history.

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 on 10-11 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.

"Firemen were powerless to control the conflagration with so many water mains cut and, instead of just odd buildings being fired, it was a case of whole streets being destroyed. Even now, six weeks afterwards, it is impossible to walk down St Andrew Street to Ludgate Circus in view of the demolition work being carried out: the company's building is still roped off as a dangerous structure".

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 Harry Thubrun and his remaining editorial team with the invaluable support of a skilled production staff.

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 Harry Thubrun had to cope single-handed from 1942 to the end of the war.

After the war, Post Magazine flourished once more as Alan 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.

One footnote to the story of Post Magazine's survival during the Second World War is the loss of its proposed centenary issue, along with its entire archive.

The magazine was, of course, due to celebrate its centenary in July 1940 and an extensive special edition had been researched, written and prepared for printing. In those days of now long abandoned hot metal print technology, all the pages were set in lead type held in substantial wooden frames. These were all prepared for the centenary issue but there was no paper to print it on. Paper was rationed and, although post Magazine was thought sufficiently important for it to be allocated a supply of paper adequate for printing a modest weekly edition, there was no prospect of it obtaining the additional supplies for a special issue. The frames of lead type, already set in pages, were therefore put into storage with the intention of printing it after the war, whenever and however that would come. They were destroyed on that May night in 1941 and the centenary issue never appeared.

Throughout the 1950s and 1960s one single feature linked insurance companies, brokers and the insurance press and that was the local insurance institute dinner. Alan Nelson-Smith, who wrote a column called Insurance Forum under the by-line Plaindealer for many years, established and enjoyed himself on this dinner circuit. For him it was invaluable for making contacts, picking up news and identifying potential advertisers.

He was also an enthusiastic supporter of amateur dramatics as Ray Sharman, who joined the Post Magazine staff on his retirement from the Prudential in 1971 recalled: "We had been firm friends long before I joined in 1971, having come together through the Association of Insurance Drama and Musical Societies, which he formed. He was its chairman and I was general secretary. He had always shown great interest in the amateur insurance theatre, which was flourishing in those days, reports of as many as 50 shows a year appearing in Post Magazine. The great bulk of these he wrote up himself. At his bidding Post Magazine presented a cup which was annually awarded to the production he judged to be the best". He first saw his wife to be performing in one of the shows he went review in 1933.

It was not all dinners and shows, however, as the growth of the magazine during the 1950s and 1960s testifies. The Insurance Directory continued to expand and several major textbooks were published. 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. He eventually succeeded to the Editor's chair in 1971 following Harry Thubrun's retirement after over 41 years at the helm, the longest term of any of the Editors of Post Magazine and a record that in these days of greater job mobility is unlikely ever to be surpassed.

On his retirement, Harry Thubrun became a director of Buckley Press, which he remained until his death on 1 February 1979. In a tribute published on his death Alan Nelson-Smith described their working relationship which had lasted nearly 50 years: "During all those years, while we disagreed on editorial matters from time-to-time, we always disagreed amicably. I cannot recall a single instance of a quarrel.

"He was a fair man with strong principles which he unswervingly maintained. Some of his decisions called for courage which he did not lack. His many friends in the insurance industry will recall his straightforward dealing with tricky problems and his determination never to be sidetracked by any of them. Also, he had the excellent quality of always supporting the actions of his editorial colleagues".

Alan Nelson-Smith himself retired at the end of 1975, although he continued to write under his Plaindealer by-line 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, Alan 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 in the Editor's chair, lasting just three months until the first of a younger generation of Editors arrived.

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 my first senior job in journalism and I enjoyed every minute. That's at least how it seems a decade on. I don't suppose I always thought that when deadlines loomed and acres of space still had to be filled.
"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. I combined my role with editing Reinsurance. Nowadays the two functions are sensibly separated. In interpreted my role as that of friendly critic of the insurance industry. It wasn't always appreciated.

"Following Steve Biko's death I wrote a tough piece urging numerous British insurance companies which has 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.

"Nowadays most people are able to see inter-relationships more clearly. In those days some people thought the insurance industry could close the door on the outside world".

Peter 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 Peter Gartland left in1981 (to take over the editorship of Money Management), Fennell Betson took over. Like Charles Jackson, Fennell 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 and she could have little guessed at the changes that were to come during her short tenure. 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.

When she was appointed, both magazines were up for sale by the family firm Buckley Press and the whole company was soon to be bought by Timothy Benn, whose father, Sir John Benn, had been chairman and managing director of UK Provident Institution for almost 20 years (1948-69), thereby maintaining Post Magazine's strong connections with the industry it serves.
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 came the move of the editorial team back to the City where the insurance industry was located, so that the market they reported on was more accessible. 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 PolicyHolder until its unsuccessful relaunch the previous year. This was subsequently merged into Post Magazine.

New owners in any business often bring in new ideas and new people. 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.

One obvious immediate need was a complete re-design of the magazine. This task was handed to top magazine designer David Hillman of Pentagram who set to work on the daunting task of creating a new image for a magazine with such a long history and which was held in deep affection by its readers.
The new design was a radical departure from what had gone before and which 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, having been kept a closely guarded secret from a market that was crawling with major publishers looking to launch potential competitors later that year or early in 1987.

As part of the redesign virtually everything changed – except the title. The new look was greeted with universal praise and circulation rose steadily as a result.

As the approach to 1990 and the 150th anniversary began David Worsfold was promoted to Editor-in-Chief looking after Reinsurance, the directories (by now in three volumes) 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 launch-pad 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. These led five years later, to the creation of the British Insurance Awards. Post Magazine also held its first conference in 1990, paving the way for its flourishing present day conference programme.

Another crucial innovation in 1990 was the launch of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Insurance & Financial Services which was created to help the insurance industry communicate more effectively with Parliament. Over the years it has played a crucial role of a range of key issues and continues to provide a vital link between the market and politicians with over 50 Parliamentarians in membership.

In 1989, the editorship had passed to Joe Layburn but he was soon lured away to the glamour of television when Thames TV launched the City Programme. 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 Professional Broking in May 1994. Nowadays she is a successful football writer for various national newspapers.

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

One of the most significant developments of recent times saw the light of day in 1995 when the British Insurance Awards was launched. Publisher 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.

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 historical weekly – The Engineer ­- in January 1999.

Anthony Gould's appointment marked the start of another new era, and saw the launch of Post Magazine's first online initiative,, a daily breaking news and magazine archive based website which now delivers an essential service to Post Magazine readers and all those in the insurance industry. This period also of course 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 a members club for insurance company claims managers and most recently for insurance company CEO's – the Business Leaders Forum.

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, the new home of Incisive Media.

In July 2003 Incisive Media acquired monthly broking title Insurance Age and Anthony 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 has gone from strength to strength in both print and online, winning a raft of journalism awards.

It is under Jonathan Swift's editorship that the magazine has been at the forefront of the rapidly changing insurance industry which has finally come under statutory regulation through the Financial Services Authority, while accusations of bid rigging in New York bought the industry's reputation and age old practices into the firing line.

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.

The new look for the title was accompanied by the introduction of a new weekly video-cast from Anthony Gould, editor in chief, paving the way for the development of new online-only content as Post develops over the next Century.

Since then the rich media (video and audio)content of has really developed as Post has made use of its own recording studio following Incisive Media's acquisition of VNU. Its media centre now offers a host of video content, from weekly news round ups to interviews with key players and reports from major conferences and events.

The site now also offers an RSS and Blackberry friendly breaking news service, a ten year news and analysis archive, a comprehensive online directory, user generated comment articles, a recruitment site with, and a dedicated Post events section.As the magazine itself looks to 2009, its mixture of indepth news and analysis supported by its rapidly developing website, email services and various brand extensions goes from strength to strength.


 Post Magazine editors

1840-1870   John Hooper Hartnoll
1870-1877   Christina Hartnoll
1877-1882   William John Stokes
1882-1883   Harry Salmon Hughes
1883-1911   Thos W J Buckley
1911-1919   S T Bennell
1919-1930   Charles Jackson
1930-1971   Henry Hepple (Harry) Thurbrun
1971-1975   Alan Nelson-Smith
1975-1976   Guy Averill
1976-1981   Peter Garland
1981-1984   Fennell Betson
1984-1986   Jenny Harris
1986-1989   David Worsfold
1989-1990   Joe Layburn
1990-1995   Alison Rudd
1995-1997   Stephen Womack
1997-1998   David Worsfold
1999-2003   Anthony Gould
2003 to date Jonathan Swift

This history is based on an article originally published in Post Magazine on 26 July 1990 and up-dated in December 2008 by Anthony Gould.

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