Above: View from near Mansion House, looking across the road intersection at the Bank of England. Princes Street is on the far left.
The Bank of England, familiarly known as ‘the Old Lady of Threadneedle Street’, stands in the City of London but its function affects all our lives and relates to the whole of Britain. It is the central bank of the United Kingdom and the model on which most modern central banks have been based. It was founded on 27 July 1694 by Royal Charter. It was begun by a Scotsman, William Paterson, to provide funds for the war with England against Louis XIV of France.
The Bank acts as the English Government’s banker and is still one of the bankers for the Government of the United Kingdom. It is the world’s eighth-oldest bank. After private ownership of 252 years, the Bank of England was placed under government ownership, being nationalised on 1 March 1946 by the Atlee Government – the treasury holding capital stock, operating under the charters of 1694 and 1946. In 1998 the Bank became an independent public organisation, wholly owned by the Treasury Solicitor on behalf of the government. Since that time it has also had the independence for setting monetary policy.
The original building was erected 1732-34, designed by George Sampson. It occupied part of the present site. The Bank of England took possession of its new premises on 5 June 1734 and business was transferred from the Grocers’ Hall which is on the western side of Princes Street.
The first governor was Sir John Houblon (1632 –712), who is depicted in the £50 note issued in 1994 (since 1994 the £50 note shows Matthew Boulton and James Watt). Houblon was a London merchant. The Houblon family were Huguenots from Lille. He later became an elder in the Huguenot Church in Threadneedle Street. He and his wife and family lived in a magnificent house just off Threadneedle Street on the site later occupied by the extended Bank of England. He became Sheriff of the City of London in 1689, an Alderman from 1689 to 1712, and Master of the Grocers’ Company from 1690 to 1691. He was Lord Mayor in 1695.
Between 1765 and 1788 wings were added to the original building. The western extension involved the demolition of the church of St Christopher le Stocks in 1781. Garden Court – within the building – occupies the site of the church. The splendid Court Room was erected in 1767 by Robert Taylor, decorated in Adam style. It remains unaltered to this present day. Since the Gordon riots of 1780, a nightly watch has been provided by the Brigade of Guards.
The original building was extended 1824-27 to its present size of 3.5 acres (1.4 hectares) by John Soane. The Court Room of 1786 has remained unaltered. The surrounding wall, known as ‘Soane’s Wall’ and the Great Hall are all that remain of his building today. At the NW corner of the Bank of England is a decorative feature in stone known as Tivoli Corner. It is beside the junction of Princes Street and Lothbury. The little arcade by John Soane, is a copy of the Temple of Vesta at Tivoli, outside Rome.
In 1939, the architect Sir Herbert Baker enlarged the building by adding more floors, bringing the total to eight above and three below ground. The building stands opposite the Royal Exchange with its entrance in Threadneedle Street. The Bank of England has become the ‘banker’s bank’ and is the banker to the Government. The Great Hall, which was the original banking room from Soane’s bank, is still in existence within the building.
At the foot of a staircase near the main entrance to the Bank, is a Roman tessellated pavement on show. It is four floors below ground level – in the same position that it was originally discovered in 1805. Because it is inside the premises of the Bank, it is not possible for it to viewed by the public.