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A brief history of HFW

The HFW story

At the start of the nineteenth century, the Holman family were sailing-ship owners in Topsham, Devon, where, in 1832, they established the West of England Marine Insurance Association, a mutual hull insurance organisation. Six years later they formed The Exeter Shipping Insurance Association on a similar basis.

This was followed in 1855, by The Shipowners’ Protection Association - one of the first two shipping protection clubs in the world - and in 1870, by The West of England Steamship Owners’ P&I Association Ltd, a club dedicated to steamships.

In 1873, to improve links and communication with the shipping and insurance markets, the managers, John Holman & Sons, moved their business to Lime Street, London. From there, they took a further step when, in 1883, Frank Holman, one of four brothers in the management company, set up in practice as a solicitor at 23 St. Mary Axe in the City of London. This was the origin of Holman Fenwick & Willan. Within two years, Frank Holman had joined with G.C. Downing and J.J. Handcock to form Downing & Holman. There were several changes in the partnership over the next twelve years, during which period Downing and Handcock left and the firm moved three times, ending up at 50-51 Lime Street. The firm was then named Holman, Birdwood & Co. In 1899, Cecil Holman and E.A. Fenwick joined, followed in 1905 by W.C. Willan - thus providing the ingredients for the firm’s present name.

In 1908 the firm moved from Lime Street to No. 1 Lloyds Avenue and in 1916, when F.T. Birdwood left the partnership, the firm’s name was changed to Holman Fenwick & Willan. After the First World War, in the early 1920s, there was an immense boom in the value of ships, which collapsed after a few years, leading to a large number of scuttling cases. This generated a great deal of work, with the firm acting sometimes for owners and sometimes for underwriters. Later, the Second World War also brought a good deal of work from convoy collisions, and then from about 1950, the firm started an expansion, which has continued ever since.

Over the years, the range of services provided by the firm has grown beyond maritime law, and it now has six core sectors globally: aerospace, commodities, construction, energy, insurance, and shipping. HFW was one of the first UK-based law firms to expand internationally, opening offices in Paris in 1977 and Hong Kong in 1978. It has since significant expanded its global network to meet the changing needs of its clients, launching in Singapore (1991), Piraeus (1993), Shanghai (1999), Dubai and Melbourne (both 2006), Brussels (2008), Sydney (2010), Geneva (2010), Perth (2011), Houston (2017), Abu Dhabi (2018), Monaco (2019) and the BVI (2022). HFW also has a formal cooperation with Brazil's leading insurance and aviation law firm, CAR, which has offices in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro.

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