In my quest to exhaust all my lunchtime museum options I found myself at the Bank of England Museum yesterday afternoon. I wasn’t entirely sure what to look at and the way it is laid out didn’t make things particularly easy either, with many different topics all competing for attention, so this blog will take the form of a few interesting things that caught my eye:
Gold bars – Surely the most exciting thing about a bank is that it’s full of gold! Here you get to see some of that gold, whether it’s Roman gold bars, pieces of gold ore or most importantly, the chance to handle a real gold bar (all 13kg of it).
The Rotunda – The first room you enter is apparently a reconstruction of the late 18th Century Back Stock Office, but to be honest I didn’t actually notice this and it certainly didn’t feel like it, which is a shame as the old pictures on the wall of the vaults and the fact you’re in the real life version of Gringotts ought to make this a pretty atmospheric place. But look around you as you walk through and you will see the bank’s architecture, particularly looking up to the roof in the Rotunda and at the original Caryatids (statues of women) circling the floor that once decorated the bank itself and you will begin to get the idea of what it might be like inside.
The banknote gallery – I like the idea of £1,000 note in my pocket, it would make paying for large items in cash a lot easier, but I know I would lose it so this one is better off left in the museum for now. Interestingly, the Monarch’s head didn’t appear on banknotes until 1960.
Handel’s account book – the German composer Handel lived in London in the 18th Century and had two accounts at the Bank of England. Here you can see his bank book on display and see some of the entries during his stay here. Linking the bank to some its famous patrons is an interesting use of its archives, but like a lot of things in the museum, it all felt a bit muddled and this was tucked away in a corner I nearly missed completely.
Tally Sticks – The bank of England was established when Tally sticks were used as a way of recording monetary exchange, with the amount indicated by notches on either side of the stick which was then split in half giving one side to each party. Several of these can be seen in the museum, including the original Tally stick that was a receipt of the original subscription paid to the government when the bank was established. Ironically the Bank of England didn’t much like Tally sticks and were influential in the decline in their use.
And one thing I did really like and would perhaps like to have seen more of or used in a different way are the really fun mannequins that appear every so often, maybe using them to guide the way and express the key points each section is trying to make would have made my trip a little less confused. But I’ll leave you with another picture of them as they did make me smile.
Location: Bank of England Museum, Threadneedle Street, London, EC2R 8AH