One of my favourite things about living in London was all of the history that you saw every day. As well as loads of museums, covering everything from cartoons to dentistry, you can’t walk anywhere without seeing evidence of one of London’s past lives surviving to the present day.
And within London, you can’t get much more historic that the City. The Square Mile, with its own mayor and police force, is the oldest part of London with occupation dating back to the start of the last millennium. Evidence of the City’s Roman and Medieval heritage is still clearly seen – from the remains of London Wall and the amphitheatre under the Guildhall (yep, there’s the remains of an entire amphitheatre under there – it’s well worth a visit!) to the traditions of the mysterious guilds with their roots in the Middle Ages.
The Bank of England museum
I used to spend a fair amount of time exploring the City, but it was only a couple of months ago, when visiting the lovely Selena, from Oh, The Places We Will Go, that I realised that the Bank of England has its own museum. I really have no idea how I managed to miss that!
Opened in 1988, the museum follows the history of the bank from its foundation in 1694 to its present day role as the UK’s central bank.
The museum has recently reopened after a major renovation and entry is free, so it’s well worth a visit if you have a spare couple of hours.
Touring the Bank of England museum
The circular route through the museum starts in a reconstruction of an 18th century banking hall, the Stock Office, which details the architectural history of the bank. The original buildings were largely unaltered until after the First World War when it was entirely rebuilt with construction completed just before the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939.
After leaving the stock office, you journey through three rooms detailing the early history of the bank from its founding until early modern times, including the its role in financing the the almost constant wars with France in the late 18th/early 19th centuries.
Then it’s on to the Rotunda – this impressive feature was designed by Herbert Baker and houses a series of cases highlighting important themes and periods in the bank’s history. You can find out about the bank in the two world wars, see some of its extensive silver collections and try to lift a real gold bar – at 13 kilograms, they’re much heavier than they look!
Finally, the modern economy has exhibits on decimalisation, the bank’s role today and some interactive exhibits explaining inflation and why it matters.
Upcoming exhibitions at the Bank of England museum
Curiosities from the vaults: A Bank miscellany To celebrate the re-opening of the museum, this new exhibition displays some of the more unusual objects in the museum’s collection. Items include a bag thought to have been lent to Lawrence of Arabia to carry gold across deserts during World War I and albums of banknotes signed by celebrities such as Nelson Mandela and George Eliot.
Roman and Medieval ceramics found during the demolition of the original building will be on display until 12th July 2014.
The First World War and the Bank of England This exhibition will explore both the impact of the Great War on the cconomy and the effect on the Bank and its staff.
The Bank of England museum is open Monday to Friday 10:00-17:00 (last entry 16.45). Closed weekends, public and bank holidays.
The entrance is on Bartholomew Lane, just off Threadneedle Street. Bank underground station is a two minute walk away.
If you’re interested in finding out more about the history and archaeology of the City of London, the Museum of London runs a great (and cheap) walks programme with walks on a variety of themes. They are a great way to find out some of the City’s hidden secrets.
Images courtesy of the Bank of England museum and Howsey via Flickr (published under creative commons)