10 small (and fascinating) museums in London…2. Bank of England Museum

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.

LondonLife – The visit of the American President…

President Barack Obama has been in London for the past two days, so Exploring London decided to take a break from our series on King James’ I’s London and instead, in honor of the president’s visit, take a look at where you’ll find some other US presidents in London.

First up, it’s President George Washington. A life-sized statue of the first US president stands outside the National Gallery on the north side of Trafalgar Square. It’s a replica of an eighteenth century marble statue by Jean Antoine Houdon which stands in the State Capitol building in Richmond, Virginia. A gift of the Commonwealth of Virginia in 1924.

Civil War President Abraham Lincoln stands looking toward Parliament Square and the Houses of Parliament (pictured). The statue dates from 1920 – it was originally proposed to put a statue of President Lincoln in Parliament Square to mark the 1915 centenary of the last time the US and Britain were at war but the plans were put on ice until several years later. The statue, a gift of the US government, is a replica of the Chicago Lincoln Memorial by Augustus Saint-Gaudens. (There is also a bust of Lincoln inside the Royal Exchange building).

Next in the chronology is President Franklin D. Roosevelt, whose statue can be found on the north side of Grosvenor Gardens (overlooked by the vast and soon-to-be replaced US embassy). This bronze was unveiled by the president’s wife, Eleanor, on the third anniversary of FDR’s death- 12th April, 1948. The statue depicts the president standing – apparently at Mrs Roosevelt’s insistence – instead of seated in a wheelchair.

Across the gardens stands another wartime president, President Dwight D. Eisenhower. A bronze by sculptor Robert Dean, this life-size statue was the gift of the US city of Kansas in 1989 and was unveiled by British PM Margaret Thatcher and US Ambassador Charles Price. It stands only a short distance from Eisenhower’s wartime HQ. (Grosvenor Square has also been home to then future US President John Adams who lived at number nine as the first US Ambassador to the Court of St James between 1786-97).

A bronze bust of the 35th president, President John F. Kennedy, can be found on the corner of Park Crescent and Marylebone Road. Unveiled by his brother, Senator Robert Kennedy, in 1965, it’s a copy of a bust located in the Library of Congress in Washington DC.

Among those mooted for the future is one of President Ronald Reagan (also in Grosvenor Square), planning permission for which was granted by Westminster City Council in 2009.