Bank of England, Threadneedle Street, London, EC2R 8AH. Telephone: +44 (0)20 7601 3866. The e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
Recorded message +44 (0)20 7601 5545
Monday to Friday, 10.00 - 17.00. Admission Free. Underground - Bank Station (No „
Despite living in London with its rich variety of museums, I am appallingly unacquainted with most of them. It's just that I know they'll always be there and I promise that one day I will visit. And, as my children are taken on regular trips to many of the museums with their school, I feel even less incentive to pay a visit.
However, during the Easter holidays, which seem to go on forever, even more so as my husband was also on holiday, I needed a good excuse to prise everyone away from their computer games. I'd checked online for free Easter events, free being the operative word, and the Bank of England Museum popped up as one such event.
Although the Bank of England Museum is open year round, over Easter they were holding special childrens activities, including an Easter egg hunt. I never even realised the Bank of England had a museum until now and must admit, I was looking forward to it.
It's very simple to find, for most people. The closest underground station is Bank which is on the Central, Northern, Waterloo & City lines and the Docklands Light Railway. It can also easily be reached by bus routes 8, 11, 23, 25, 26, 47, 48, 133, 141, 149 and 242 which all stop in Threadneedle Street. Main line stations close by are Liverpool Street, Fenchurch Street and Cannon Street (weekdays only).
After packing up the kids and husband, we set off for the tube and half an hour later all piled out at Bank station. Straight away I headed up the steps towards some tall pillars. Hubby wasn't so sure it was the right place. As I approached the top of the stairs I saw the building was called the Royal Exchange, inside which they offered luxury shopping and dining. How could I have been so stupid. All these years I thought the Royal Exchange building was the Bank of England. The Bank of England was actually just opposite in Threadneedle Street although you have to walk around the corner to find the entrance in Bartholomew Lane.
~~~Inside the Bank~~~
As we arrived at the door I noticed a large sign on the window displaying the energy efficiency of the building. I thought it was very honest of them to show that the building's energy efficiency was the worst it could possibly be. Must be to do with the age of the building. They just didn't care about such things in those days. Actually, although the building was originally built on its present position in 1734, it was rebuilt after the first world war and completed just before the second world war.
As we entered inside we had to take off our bags which were scanned by an airport style conveyor belt machine, then we all had to walk through a scanner door frame. Only my son beeped, which was due to his ipod hidden in his pocket. At the reception desk a friendly lady spoke to each of my three children in turn and gave them an age appropriate quiz pack. This included questions and hints on objects they had to find throughout the bank. If they ticked them all off, they would be presented with an Easter egg. Well, it turned out to be a Creme egg, but no one was complaining.
The adults were given a pamphlet which included information about the various artefacts on display as well as a useful numbered diagram indicating where each piece of information could be found within the bank.
The museum itself was officially opened by HM The Queen in November 1988. Inside is probably everything you ever wanted to know about the history of the bank which dates back to its foundation by Royal Charter in 1694.
There are hundreds of fascinating examples of early bank notes, some of which date back to handwritten receipts from the late 17th century. One of particular interest to me was a note promising to pay the bearer a sum of money which was hand written by King Charles the 2nd. It was also interesting to read that there was a large resistance against the introduction of bank notes because so much of the population at that time (17th century) weren't able to read!
There are several copies of ancient bookeeping ledgers containing the names and salaries of staff who worked at the bank during the 17th and 18th centuries.
There are a few interactive things to do which the kids enjoyed. One of these is a safe that you are invited to try and open. They provide 3 questions and a selection of answers. You choose the answers, each of which corresponds to a number. You then turn the dial let and right according to the numbers you chose and if you are right, the safe will open and you get a prize. Needless to say, none of us succeeded.
Also popular was a gold bar. This is encased inside a specially enforced glass case with a hole which is large enough to fit an adults hand. They invite you to try and lift the bar up with one hand. I thought this would be a piece of cake but actually didn't manage it the first time. My 9 year old didn't either but 12 year old son had to prove his strength and managed. It weighs 13kg and is the equivalent to something in the region of £265,000. Just what I need to pay off my mortgage.
Another interactive activity to try out and again, one I couldn't manage, was the inflation balancing bar. This contained a large ball bearing which rolls along inside a tube with inflation at one end and interest rates at the other. Your task is to balance inflation and interest rates at 2%, a point about half way. Let me tell you, I didn't see anyone achieve this. It looked easy but was an impossible feat. Maybe I have a bit ore sympathy for the government now.
There is also an interactive video which we didn't have time to try out. This explains the role of the bank today and tests users knowledge of banking and money. There's also a short film and interactive exhibit about the history of inflation, including the causes and how it affects the economy.
Overall, the Bank offers a fascinating look at the history of our banking system. Unfortunately, we had to leave a bit before we were ready as it was closing time and the staff were making pointed remarks about them closing shortly. Actually, we were still trying to crack the safe code and I think we were nearly there.
The older children really enjoyed searching out the points of interest on their quiz but the youngest (5) found it a bit boring after a while and became quite vocal. So it's probably best for children over the age of 5.
There is a small gift shop situated just by the entrance but we didn't have time to look in there. Overall, we spent just over an hour browsing around but probably would have needed another half an hour to 45 minutes for a more in-depth browse.
I've decided I'd like to go back again, sans children, just to spend more time reading some of the fascinating information that's on display.
A very worthwhile museum visit for most of the family at no cost apart from travel.
Mon - Fri, 10.00 - 17.00
Last entry at 4.45pm
Christmas Eve: 10:00am - 1:00pm
Public and Bank Holidays
Bank of England Museum
+44 (0)20 7601 5545
Another of London's little known museums is the reassuringly free Bank of England Museum. Located, unsurprisingly, in the Bank of England itself, just a few yards from Bank Underground station, the museum reveals the history of this financial institution, as well as explaining a fair amount about what national banks actually do, and how they operate. The museum has been open since November 1988, though still seems not to get that many visitors. The Bank's story is told with several multi-media displays, with videos detailing major events in its history, from its establishment, through the Gordon Riots, to modern techniques for printing bank notes. EXHIBITION The exhibition itself is relatively small, but will still take about an hour to tour. You start off by entering the Bank Stock Office, a late 18th century banking hall, reconstructed to resemble the design of Sir John Soane. The reconstruction is as faithful as possible, with exact glass and paint colours used. Mahogany counters around the edge of the room are arranged as they were in the original banking hall. There are even some mannequins in the period dress of clerks and customers at the far end of the hall. The Bank Stock Office is also the site of the museum's temporary exhibitions. For example, when I visited in late April 2001, there was an exhibition on the subject of forgery, including plates used in the manufacture of banknotes, and some of the museum's collection of counterfeit notes. This was pretty interesting, because it showed the various techniques the bank has employed to make forgery more difficult over the years – from the introduction of watermarks, to more complicated designs. Around the edge of the room are displays in cabinets showing the architectural history of the bank, and explaining about banking in England before the Bank was established. The next few rooms tell the story of the Bank up to the Nineteenth cen
tury. In the first room, the story of the foundation of the Bank of England, by Scottish merchant William Paterson, is told. The original proposal and Charter of the Bank of England, approved by William III in 1694, are on display here, along with a ledger recording all of the names of those who subscribed to the Bank's original £1.2m loan capital – all of whom were guaranteed an 8% return on their investment by the government! From here, we follow the bank's original opening in Mercers' Hall, its move to Grocers' Hall later that same year, and its final move to its present location on Threadneedle Street in 1734. Over that forty year period, the Bank had to deal with several competitors, most notably the South Sea Company – which was defeated when the "South Sea Bubble" burst. The next room describes the Bank's activity in the Eighteenth Century, managing the increasing national debt, and withstanding the Gordon Riots of 1780. There's one of the Bank's few £1,000,000 notes on display, which was used for internal accounting, along with correspondence between the bank and some of its customers, including George and Martha Washington. The next area of the museum is the Rotunda, designed by Sir Herbert Baker, dating from the 1930s. Showcases around the edge of the Rotunda complete the chronological history of the Bank, describing the opening of additional branches of the Bank of England across the country, the adoption of the Gold standard, the two World Wars, the abandonment of the Gold Standard, and the Bank's nationalisation. These displays are well constructed, and tell the story of the Bank in a reasonably interesting way, with a well-selected collection of items telling the Bank's story, including several satirical cartoons. There is also a display of the Bank's impressive collection of silverware, much of which dates back to the Bank's establishment. As you enter the Ro
tunda, you pass between animatronic caricatures of William Pitt and James Fox, debating the merits of various banking systems. In the centre of the Rotunda is a display of gold bars, with a stack of 59 facsimile bars in a case right in the middle. Just off the Rotunda is a display of banknotes, with some of the Bank's enormous collection of notes from throughout its history on display. Examples of all the Bank's notes, through to the previous "historical" Series D set of bank notes (with Wellington, Nightingale, Shakespeare, and Wren on the £5, £10, £20 and £50 respectively) are on display, along with an early printing press. There's also an interesting interactive terminal, explaining the various security precautions installed on the new £50 note, including holograms, watermarks, serial numbers. Upon leaving the Rotunda, you pass into a small exhibition on the "Bank Today", with several interactive features. There are several video terminals, at which visitors can watch informative displays about the Bank's role in the British economy. These are very nicely presented, and a viewer can choose exactly how much information they want, and therefore how much time they spend watching the video. There is a modern trader's dealing desk here, and some interactive terminals, at which visitors can find out what it's like to be a dealer, with a quick game. An exhibition of the Bank's current collection of banknotes – Series E – is on display (Stephenson, Darwin (previously Dickens), Elgar (previously Faraday) and Sir John Houblon (the Bank's first governor)) along with information about why the individuals and specific designs were chosen, and including original sketches made for the note designs. NOTES The museum is very nicely presented; it's kept very clean, and display cabinets are very nicely presented. The text in the displays is very informative, and you do l
earn a great deal about the Bank's history. Videos throughout the museum are informative, particularly the final interactive video in the "Bank Today" section of the Museum. All of these videos clearly tell visitors how long they are, so if you're visiting on a tight schedule, you know how much time they're going to take. Classical music plays in several of the museum's rooms, which is nice and restful too. When you enter the museum, bags have to be presented for inspection by a bored-looking Bank employee, who sticks some sort of probe in there. Coats can be left at the cloakroom with a bored-looking member of staff. Visitors are watched in exhibitions by bored-looking staff members, and the shop is watched over by a virtually comatose employee. Overall, the staff seem spectacularly uninspired by their work, and are less than eager to answer any questions you might have about the Bank, which is a great pity. SHOP The Bank of England shop is pretty good, with the usual collection of Museum stationery (pens, pencils, erasers, bookmarks and the like), but also includes some more unusual souvenirs – such as some nice paperweights filled with shredded banknotes (£19.95 for one in the shape of a pound sign). Definitive sets of coins minted by the Bank are available to buy, including the new £2 and £5 coin designs. CONCLUSIONS The Bank of England Museum is completely free, which is great, and you can pick up a free leaflet to guide you round it. The museum's displays are very informative, and give a good summary of the history of the Bank itself. There's enough here to amuse most visitors for about an hour, and as its located right in the centre of London, there's plenty of other things to do in the area afterwards. The only things that let the museum down are that if you have no interest in banking, you'll probably find it dull (not a great surprise that...), and the museum'
s indifferent employees. The Museum is open from 10am to 5pm every day from Monday to Friday. There are often temporary exhibitions on display, and in the school holidays activities are put on for children showing how coins are minted. You can phone 0207 601 5545, for a recorded message about what's on at the museum.