A Tour of the Bank of England Museum

with Lunch at Brasserie Blanc

15th March 2017

35 members and guests assembled at the Bank of England Museum whose entrance on the Bank’s three and a half acre island site is tucked unobtrusively away in Bartholomew Lane. There they had the opportunity to wander around the exhibits and experiment with the numerous interactive displays encouraging one to find a way to balance the nation’s budget, as well as to play with jigsaws of representations of the current banknotes and to marvel at the techniques that have developed over the past several hundred years to prevent banknote forgeries.

 

There was also on display a gold bullion bar weighing 13 kilos (currently worth over £350,000) which one was encouraged to pick up with one hand but which - most unsportingly - was restrained so that it was impossible to move it more than an inch or so in any direction! Having browsed through the exhibits we were then ushered into a comfortable air-conditioned lecture theatre to receive a fascinating talk from Alison, one of the resident education officers, about the history of the Bank of England and the evolution of banknotes from those printed on cotton rag to today’s present and planned plastic versions. We learnt about the Bank’s growth from a private company set up in 1694 to act as the Government’s bankers with a staff of 17 clerks and 2 gatekeepers into today’s monolithic institution, with a staff numbered in thousands, which was not nationalised until 1946.

 

There was an intriguing tale of a man who in the 19th Century found his way from the sewers into the Bank’s vaults but was not believed until he made an appointment to meet officials in the vaults; he was given as a reward for his honesty £800 (about £80,000 in today’s money).

 

We also learnt that the stacks of the bullion bars have to be limited in height in case they cause the floor of the vaults and the gold to sink into the London clay upon which the Bank is built!

 

There was then a period for questions before the party migrated a few hundred yards to Brasserie Blanc in Threadneedle Walk for a convivial and well lubricated repast.  All in all it was a most enjoyable and instructive occasion.

 

                                          Chris Eyles

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Click on the image left to see a website created by the BBC that shows a number of photographs (from their archive of 40,000 taken since the 1840s) from inside and around the Bank of England.

 

Many more of these pictures are on display in the Museum.

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