Above: The front of the bank in Fleet Street.
One of the earliest banks in London is Child’s, which continues its business in Fleet Street to this day. It claims to have origins going back to the 16th century, possibly to the year 1559. In those days it stood in Cheapside – on a site at the western end of the street, which was lined with many shops all owned by goldsmiths. The origins of banks and of having paper money started with goldsmiths. Because of the value of the gold that he stored, a goldsmith would have a very secure safe in which the gold was kept, including the gold ornaments that he made. Members of the public, fearing that they did not have a safe place to store a gold ring or brooch that the family owned, often asked the goldsmith to store it for them. He would oblige and he issued a receipt for the item. If a large debt had to be paid, the owner of a valuable ring would hand the receipt to the person to whom he owed money and say that if he handed in the receipt to the shop he would obtain the ring. The piece of paper therefore became a form of payment. It was a ‘promise of payment’ – like the bank-note is today.
The firm of Child and Co evolved from the goldsmithing businesses of William Wheeler and Robert Blanchard. To reinforce the point, the company had a sign outside the building with a large marigold flower – being a pun on the gold. Whether the business goes back to the 16th century is debated by some who claim that the bank was established in 1603 as the first and that it had only been a goldsmith until 1603.
The bank business began in 1673 next door to Temple Bar, at the sign of the Marigold. The goldsmith’s and banking business passed to the Child family by marriage. Sir Francis Child left the goldsmith’s craft and devoted himself solely to the world of finance.
Above: The marigold sign in the stonework of the present building.
The foundation stone of the present bank was laid in 1879, designed by John Gibson. The building is on the south side of Fleet Street, just west of Temple Bar – at the address of No 1 Fleet Street. Its archives are among the oldest banking records in Britain. The building has the sign of the marigold worked into the stonework, reminding us of its roots as a goldsmith. The bank is no longer independent however because it is now a branch of the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS).