The museum is housed in Sir John Soane’s 1793 bank stock office. This is a modern reconstruction on the original site incorporating details such as the original colour of the glass and paint. There are mahogany counter tops and oak ledger rests that mirror the original arrangement.
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For its first 40 years the bank rented premises in the Grocers’ Hall. In 1734 the bank moved to a new building in Threadneedle St. The building was gradually expanded, and by 1833 it covered the entire present site. The building stayed the same until after WWI when it was completely rebuilt by Sir Herbert Baker.
One part of the exhibit tells about William Paterson’s original proposal and the charter granted by William III in 1694 which established the Bank of England. On display is the book recording the names of those who subscribed to the Bank’s original £1,200,000 loan capital. Also on display is an iron chest dating from c1700.
Before the existence of the bank of England banking was controlled by goldsmiths who loaned money to merchants and to the Crown. Their notes were receipts for coin deposited with them and were used as paper money. This was the beginning of the idea of using banknotes. There was a need for a national bank by the early 1700s and the war with France brought the need into focus. A Scottish merchant, William Paterson, proposed terms for the Bank of England to be established. His proposal and William III’s charter for the bank in 1694 are on display in the museum.
One room in the museum gives the impression of a bank interior in the 18th century. At this time the bank was mostly a government one that managed the national debt. On view is correspondence with famous customers of the time such as the Duchess of Marlborough and George and Martha Washington.
Between 1793 and 1815 during the war with France the bank helped finance the war effort but that caused its gold reserves to fall. In 1797 it had to restrict payment of notes in gold. This caused much discussion, debate, pamphlets and theories which focused on monetary discipline. In 1816 the value of the pound sterling was fixed to a particular amount of gold and the sovereign coin came into existence. The gold standard was used until 1931.
In the rotunda, a rebuilding of 1930, is a 13 kilogram London Good Delivery gold bar which you can touch and try to lift. This room focuses on themes or particular periods detailing the history of the Bank. On show is a collection of silver dating from 1694 when the bank was founded. In the centre section is a collection of the most widely used bars of gold which includes Roman bars and the bar given by the Queen to Westminster Abbey on the occasion of her coronation in 1953.
The Banknote Gallery contains a collection of Bank of England notes tracing their development from the simple handwritten receipts of the late 17th century to today’s technologically sophisticated notes. There is a presentation on the examination of banknotes currently issued and their design intricacies and security features. Other topics are the printing of banknotes.
An AV presentation tells about the Bank’s role today—setting interest rates, issuing banknotes and helping to keep the financial system stable. It was between the two world wars that the Bank became a central one managing the country’s gold and executing monetary policy. The bank was nationalized in 1946.
There is a short film and interactive exhibit on inflation and also one on the changeover from the original twelve pennies to the shilling and twenty shilling to the pound to the decimal system in 1971. A brief history of the evolution of the £stirling is displayed. An interactive exhibit tells about the monetary policy committee and the court of directors that manage the bank. Examples of coinage in use today are shown.
There are many architecturally interesting buildings in the area to enjoy. A statue of Wellington sits at one of the street intersections.
Bank of England Museum
Threadneedle Street, London EC2R 8AH
Entrance off Bartholomew St
Tel. 020 7601 5545
Open: Mon-Fri, 10am-5pm
Audio tours; AV presentations; special events; shop
Web: Bank of England Museum
Note: The museum does not allow photographs within the museum itself.