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.