Bank of England Museum review
Everyone has a few CDs they keep secret from their friends (usually ABBA) they turn all the spines back to front so nobody knows they're a fan. Well this is my museum equivalent of that. People think that the Bank of England Museum is going to be a dull day out but if you're into Ye Olde London then there are lots of interesting pictures and paintings to look at.
Apparently we've got the French to thank for the Bank of England because shortly after they beat us at the Battle of Beachy Head William III discovered that he couldn't afford to replace his sunk and busted navy. His quick fix was to hand over the government's money to a newly created bank and promptly borrowed a million quid from it. With the government's money behind it the bank grew into a behemoth and ended up funding all our empire adventures for the next 250 years.
The exhibition begins with some pictures of the bank's long-gone buildings in Poultry and Threadneedle Street before Sir John Soane rebuilt it around 1790. There are some nice sepia-tinged photos of the offices from the 1890s as well where every member of staff seems to have a moustache and a bowler hat. Sadly they demolished a lot of Soane's original building in the 1920s and the only bit still standing is that big windowless perimeter wall that runs around the street.
Next up are cabinets full of old cheques and bank notes from the days of Charles II. They've got carved wooden lock boxes, beautiful old charters, and calligraphic bank notes that are almost too beautiful to spend. When you hit the Victorian period you see all of their equipment: the oil lamps, quill pens, engravers plates and lathes. They've got a few muskets and guns as well in case a bank robber broke in.
Along the way you pick up lots of interesting bits of info like how George Washington remained a shareholder all the way through the American War of Independence. (It's a good job they didn't have Twitter in the 1770s because imagine the social media storm if that had got out -- this was the bank that was funding Britain's war effort!)
If you drag a little kid along then there's probably only one exhibit that they might like: the gold bar. They've got it locked up inside a bullet-proof box and you can feed your hand through a little hole in the front and touch it. If you're going to try and lift it up then remember to bend your knees first (bend your knees, straighten your back, exhale all the air out of your chest) because this thing will give you a hernia. Scientists say that a teaspoon's worth of matter from the centre of a neutron star weighs more than Mount Everest, well this weighs more than that. While I was waiting patiently for a photo opportunity I saw an old guy almost put his back out trying to lift it up.
The exhibition ends with a cabinet full of coins going all the way back to the guineas and groats, florins, farthings, crowns and pounds from the last few centuries. Sovereigns, shillings, sixpences... they've got everything.
I’ve been here before…
Events at Bank of England Museum…
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