Tuesday, 3 February 2009

South London Prudence

The Prudential Building in Holborn is something of a landmark, and I was fascinated to discover from Ornamental Passions that it features a sculpture of Prudence herself. So when I recently noticed that Lewisham High Street has its very own Prudential Buildings, the obvious question was whether the figure on its corner is Prudence too?

Indeed she is (in fact, she's handily standing on a name label) - some twenty years younger than her Holborn counterpart. Unlike big sister, she carries not the mirror of self-knowledge but a snake symbolising wisdom. In the other hand is a large book: presumably an insurance ledger! Interestingly, the company's logo has always featured Prudence with a mirror, making Lewisham's version something of a departure from the company norm.

By the time Prudential Buildings opened, the Pru was Britain's largest life assurance company, insuring a third of the population. Founded in 1848 in Hatton Gardens, it had begun selling 'penny policies' to the working classes in 1854: agents ('the man from the Pru') would call door-to-door, collecting payments. It was also the first City company to employ female clerks, from 1871. Today, Prudential is a huge international business with a wide range of products including the internet bank egg.

Further reading: Prudential Assurance at Ornamental Passions.

2 comments:

Philip Wilkinson said...

Lovely. I must have passed this lots of times when I lived in SE London and not noticed it.

Prudence normally carries not a book but a mirror (because you should 'know yourself' as the old proverb says) and the serpent, which is a symbol of wisdom. She also sometimes has a sieve, to sort out false arguments or sort the good from the bad, and sometimes had two faces, so she can look two ways at once. The book could be a symbol of wisdom like the snake, but, yes, it's just as likely to be an insurance ledger.

rtb said...

"Prudence - the ability to see oneself as one truly is" - hence the mirror.

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