Bank-of-EnglandFounded in 1694, the Bank of England has been located on its current site – on Threadneedle Street opposite Mansion House – since 1734.

Known as the ‘Old Lady of Threadneedle Street’, the bank was originally situated there in a small, purpose-built building designed by George Sampson after it’s relocation from a rented property in nearby Prince’s Street (which now runs along the bank’s west side).

Its footprint was subsequently expanded by Sir Robert Taylor – this included covering a site to the west previously been occupied by the church of St Christopher-le-Stocks. Among Sir Robert’s design features were a centrally located rotunda.

In the late 18th century the bank underwent the start of a total transformation under the eye of architect Sir John Soane. Soane, who was Surveyor to the Bank of England between 1788 and 1833, saw the size of the bank more than doubled in a project which lasted well into the 19th century (indeed, such was the size of the bank that at its peak during Soane’s tenure more than 1,000 clerks were working in the building with some even having on-site residences).

Covering three-and-a-half acres on an asymmetrical site, Soane’s design was at least partly inspired by the ancient architecture of Greece and Rome and featured a complex arrangement of courts, halls and offices all surrounded by a high, windowless curtain wall. The buildings inside the wall were largely no more than three stories high and included public banking halls, offices for manufacturing banknotes, and a barracks housing the 30-strong Bank Guard. Given the great curtain wall around the site, the buildings were all either top-lit or faced into courts and light-wells.

Little today remains of Soane’s bank – it was demolished in the 1920s and replaced with a single building designed by Herbert Baker – but the exception is the dominating outer wall which surrounds the entire site (pictured above from the south-east corner).

You can see a reconstruction of Soane’s 1793 Stock Office in the museum (see our earlier entry here), which has just reopened its doors after a three month refurbishment, and it’s also possible to see some of the ‘caryatids’ which Soane had originally placed on the dome of the Old Dividend Office and which are now located on rotunda created by Baker. More of Soane’s work can be seen at the Sir John Soane’s Museum (see our earlier entry here).

WHERE: The Bank of England Museum, Bartholomew Lane off Threadneedle Street (nearest Tube stations are Bank/Monument and Mansion House); WHEN: 10am to 5pm, Monday to Friday (last entry 4.45pm); COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.bankofengland.co.uk/education/Pages/museum/visiting/default.aspx.

WHERE: 13 Lincoln’s Inn Fields. Nearest tube is Holborn. WHEN:10am to 5pm, Tuesday to Saturday; COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.soane.org.

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The National Maritime Museum in Greenwich opened the doors of its new £36.5 million Sammy Ofer Wing today. The new, architecturally slick extension – which is being touted as bringing with it a change of direction in the way the museum operates – features a new permanent gallery known as Voyages as well as a temporary exhibition space, library and archive. There’s also a lounge, cafe and brasserie – the latter boasting views out over Greenwich Park. The Voyages gallery has been designed as an introduction to the museum and features a 30 metre long thematic ‘object wall’ hosting more than 200 objects – everything from a letter written by Horatio Nelson to his mistress Emma Hamilton while he was on board the Victory in 1803 through to a watch belonging to Robert Douglas Norman – among those who perished on the Titanic, and a somewhat battered Punch puppet. The special exhibition space initially hosts High Arctic which uses technology to create an “immersive environment” exploring the Arctic world from the perspective of the future. The museum is also introducing the Compass Card scheme, a new initiative which will eventually be rolled out across the museum. Visitors are presented with a unique card with which, by inserting it into special units placed in galleries, they can flag their interest in receiving further information on a specified subject. The card can then be used to call up related archival information in the museum’s Compass Lounge or using the visitor’s home computer. For more information, see www.nmm.ac.uk.

The British Museum has announced funding has been secured for two new gallery spaces. These will include a new gallery looking at the history of world money from 2000 BC to present day. Known as the Citi Money Gallery, it will be opened in 2012. A donation from Paul and Jill Ruddock, meanwhile, means the museum will also be working on a major redisplay of Room 41 which covers the Mediterranean and Europe from 300 to 1,100 AD. The artefacts in the room include treasures taken from Sutton Hoo and the Vale of York Viking Hoard. The gallery will open in 2013/14. For more, see www.britishmuseum.org.

Now On: Festival of British Archaeology. Coordinated by the Council for British Archaeology, the 21st festival (formerly known as National Archaeology Week) kicks off this weekend and runs until the end of July. It boasts more than 800 events across Britain including in London where they include guided tours of the Rose Theatre, a range of Roman themed events and activities – including a gladiator show – at the Museum of London, gallery talks at the Bank of England Museum and British Museum, the chance to visit the Billingsgate Roman House and Baths, and a guided walk of Londinium (Roman London) organised by All Hallows by the Tower. For a complete events listing, see http://festival.britarch.ac.uk/.

Now OnThe London Street Photography Festival is running until the end of the month with a series of exhibitions, talks, walks and workshops, the majority of which are taking place in and around King’s Cross. Key events include Street Markets of London in the 1940s – Walter Joseph featuring never before seen images at the British Library, Vivien Maier: A Life Uncovered at the German Gymnasium, and Seen/Unseen – George Georgiou and Mimi Mollica at the Collective Gallery. For more information, see www.londonstreetphotographyfestival.org.

The Bank of England Museum, located on the east side of the “Old Lady of Threadneedle Street”, provides a fascinating account of life behind the bank’s fortress-like walls, spanning the period from its origins and founding in 1694 to its nationalisation in post-World War II Britain through to the high-tech nature of banking – and banknotes – today. 

The museum is partly housed in a 1988 reconstruction of architect Sir John Soane’s 1793 stock office (Sir John designed the bank’s original headquarters –  much of this was later demolished with the exception being the outer windowless walls of the bank which still frown down on passersby) as well as in the Rotunda – designed by Herbert Baker and dating from the 1930s, it features some of the original Caryatids which decorated Soane’s design.

Highlights among the permanent exhibition include the Great Iron Chest, a precursor to today’s safes dating from around 1700, the Bank of England Charter of 1694 still afixed with the Great Seal, the earliest known Bank of England running cash note (relating to a deposit of £22 and dating from 1697), muskets and pistols used for security at the bank, and documents relating to some of the bank’s more high profile customers (these include Admiral Lord Nelson and former US President George Washington) as well as extensive collection of banknotes and coins. There’s also the opportunity to feel the weight of a solid gold bar (worth £393,884 at the time of our visit).

The exhibition also includes a display on Kenneth Grahame, author of The Wind in the Willows and a long-time (30 year) employee of the bank until his sudden resignation, possibly in part due to him being shot by an intruder several years before, in 1908, only four months before his internationally renowned book was published. Key artifacts include his resignation letter in which he asks for “relief” from the burden of his responsibilities at the bank.

Among current temporary exhibitions is The Pound in Your Pocket which looks in detail at the issue of inflation through a variety of entertaining devices including a balance in which you have to keep inflation at a level during a series of “economic shocks”.

WHERE: The Bank of England Museum, Bartholomew Lane off Threadneedle Street (nearest Tube stations are Bank/Monument and Mansion House); WHEN: 10am to 5pm, Monday to Friday (last entry 4.45pm); COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.bankofengland.co.uk/education/museum/index.htm.

• The annual Museums at Night event returns to London (and Britain) this weekend with hundreds of museums and galleries across the country opening their doors for special after hours events. Among those places in London taking part is the Churchill War Rooms, which is hosting a 1940s evening on Friday night, the London Canal Museum which is hosting”candle-lit tours, atmospheric lighting, and exhibits of art and film in dark places”, and the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology which is hosting a double hill of Hammer films and a “Gothic Egypt” trail. Other institutions taking part include the Sir John Soane Museum, the National Gallery, the Bank of England Museum, and Orleans House Gallery in Twickenham.  For more information about what’s on see www.museumsatnight.org.uk

King William the Conqueror celebrated at the Tower of London this week following the completion of a £2 million, three year project to clean the White Tower. First built shortly after the Norman Conquest of 1066, the tower had become blackened by pollution but has now been restored to its original color. For more information on visiting the Tower, see www.hrp.org.uk/toweroflondon/.

A foundation stone has reportedly been laid for a Bomber Command Memorial in Green Park. The memorial, which is due to be completed for the Queen’s Jubilee celebrations in 2012, will be constructed of Portland stone and will feature a nine foot tall statue of a bomber command aircrew. Bomber Command lost more than 55,000 airmen during World War II. The foundation stone was laid by the Duke of Gloucester. Supporters of the monument’s construction have included former Bee Gee Robin Gibb, Sir Michael Beetham, Marshal of the RAF, and  The Daily Telegraph newspaper which is running an appeal to help raise funds for the memorial.