Prudential Building

The growth of manufacturing industry in Europe was sustained by the development of financial institutions that provided capital for entrepreneurs and a measure of security for the population at large. The success of the principal insurance companies was reflected in every great European city by the building of prestigious offices, of which none is more expressive of the importance of financial institutions that the Prudential Building in London. The Prudential Mutual Insurance, Investment and Loan Association’ was formed at a meeting in Hatton Gardens, London, on 30 May 1848. Six years later the company set up an ‘Industrial Department’ that employed door-to-door agents to sell ‘penny policies’ in middle class and respectable working class communities. This innovation, allied with sound investment policies, skilled actuarial calculations and efficient administration, made the company prosperous. It took over its closest competitors in the late 1850s and early 1860s and from 1866 was known simply as the Prudential Assurance Co. In 1871 it began to employ female clerks, one of the first major companies in the City of London to do so. The Prudential’s headquarters in London was built in 1878 to the design of Alfred Waterhouse (1830-1905), one of the most celebrated and in financial terms the most successful of Victorian architects, best known for Manchester Town Hall, completed in 1877, and for the Natural History Museum, South Kensington, built between 1868 and 1880. The offices were commissioned during 1879, and consciously reflected the status of the Prudential as the largest life assurance company in the United Kingdom, which by 1900 insured a third of the population. The building is in the Gothic style constructed from fiery red bricks and terracotta. Its lavish ornamentation includes shields bearing the arms of cities where the company was represented, held in place by cherubs. The building was enlarged in 1897-1901 and extensively rebuilt in the 1930s. It established a house style for Prudential architecture, and company offices were built in the same style in other British cities, in Liverpool in 1885 and in Huddersfield in 1898, for example. In 1892 the company reminded Waterhouse that the board preferred its buildings to be in red terracotta. Further innovations took place at the Holborn building in the twentieth century. In 1913 the Prudential pioneered the use of punched card systems of record-keeping, and in 1949 one of the most successful of all advertising campaigns was launched, featuring the ‘Man from the Pru’, with an image of an agent in a suit, wearing a trilby hat with a file under his right arm, selling insurance policies of all sorts from door to door.

Prudential Building
Laurence Pountney Hall
EC4R 0HH London
United Kingdom
+44 (0) 207 - 2207588