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Bank of England Museum

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by Sandra Lawson (subscribe)
To paraphrase Dorothy: 'There is no place like London.' I hope I can convince you of that here. Also check out my blog at and my theatre reviews at
Published January 5th 2012
The Bank of England Museum is not merely a history of the building and the institution. It also supplies a wealth of information on the role played by the Bank today, and provides a history of banking in this country, including an exhibition of the coins and banknotes minted and printed over the last 300 years.

The Bank of England Museum
The Museum Entrance

The Bank was founded by Royal Charter in 1694, but didn't move to its present location on Threadneedle Street until 1734. It has been extended and rebuilt over the years, and the current building dates to the 1930s. The museum was opened by Queen Elizabeth II in 1988.

A visit to the museum is not only for adults, but there are many displays aimed at children, together with interactive exhibits to engage and inform them. There is a constant sense of history, which derives from the recreation of the interior of an eighteenth century bank (including the model of a clerk in period costume), and the chronological layout of the exhibits. You can view the Royal Charter granted by William III and the book listing the names of those who subscribed to the Bank's original loan capital of 1,200,000.

You will be whisked through the centuries and view documentation relating to customers such as George Washington and the composer, Handel. You will learn how the Bank financed the wars between England and France and listen to the recreation of a parliamentary exchange between Pitt the Younger and Charles James Fox debating whether to back the Bank's notes with gold, or whether to issue an unlimited supply of money. This sounds similar to our present day quantitative easing. Gillray's cartoon, 'Political Ravishment', depicts the Old Lady of Threadneadle Street (the Bank's nickname) being ravished by Pitt as a satire on his demands to issue the money that was not supported by gold.

The Bank of England Museum
Political Ravishment by James Gillray

A Tenniel cartoon of 1890, 'The Same Old Game', depicts a caricature of the speculators at Barings bank that resulted in a 17m rescue. Banks and banking hardly appear to have changed over time.

You will be fascinated to see the display of banknotes, dating from the original seventeenth century handwritten receipts, which derived from Goldsmiths' notes. You can trace the evolution of our contemporary paper currency through the history of a 1699 banknote for 150 8s 8d, and a 500 note dating from 1787, and see how the notes have changed in colour and size and are now printed rather than handwritten. It may come as a surprise to find out that the monarch's head first appeared on paper money in 1960. You will also be able to see coins dating back to the 1690s and follow their evolution through the centuries, until England finally abandoned pounds, shillings and pence for decimal coinage.

The Bank of England Museum
A Ten Shilling Note

The Bank of England Museum
1911 Gold Sovereign

The Bank's collection of silverware, dating back to 1694 is also on display, as is a selection of gold bars. You can even try to lift a 13 kg gold bar, which is encased and protected by CCTV, just to get an idea of the actual weight.

Finally if you are more interested in banking and the economy you can learn how the Bank maintains monetary and financial stability. You can also understand more about the causes of inflation, and what the Bank does to try to control it. And of course you can discover more about the history of sterling and the printing of banknotes, including the security measures used to differentiate them from forgeries. Be warned that forgery was a capital offence between 1697 and 1832!

In case you forget that banks are also places for saving money, here is a picture of an iron chest, dating from 1700. This was known as 'the great chest in the parlour' and was the predecessor to our safes. The original is displayed in the museum.

The Bank of England Museum
The Great Chest in the Parlour
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Why? To learn about the history of the Bank of England and what it stands for today
When: Monday - Friday 10.00-17.00
Where: Bartholomew Lane, London EC2R 8AH
Cost: Free
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