Banking! Money! Gold! Interest Rates! What more could you ask for on a Saturday?

July 23, 2007 at 8:47 pm | Posted in Bank of England, General, London, Out and About, Travel | Leave a comment
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Quite possibly a lot more but not for your intrepid traveller journeying (a few weeks ago now) to the desolate streets of the Square Mile to take a tour of the imposing Bank of England – which is not the Exchange building as many might think.

 Not the Bank…The Exchange.
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 The Bank.
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Perspectives of the Bank.
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My understanding is that the Bank normally does not run tours except during the London Festival. Otherwise on any other day the only option is visiting the free museum. At the entrance I am greeted by a security guard wearing top hat and salmon coloured tails. I wonder if this is the de jour wear or just while they offer the tours. Given that many look ill-fitting I suspect the latter. After entering the foyer and pass my bags through the x-ray machine (the operator and some of the other guards inside are sadly only in suits). Myself and the other tourists wait through the usual don’t touch anything instructions before getting underway on the tour.

Followed at a distance by a minder…

Because the Bank (or “Old Lady”) is nothing if not all about security. After all they have raised their own volunteer corp from the ranks of their staff. Banker’s doing battle reminds me a bit of Monty Python and the Meaning of Life skethc skethc on corporate raiders.

We get a brief history of the bank’s 17th century beginnings as a fund for the English war effort in France (at 8% interest) before we moved onto the construction of the present building. Most of the modern building (despite looking reasonably old) have only been around since the 1920s when they tore down the interior to increase the number of floors (above and below ground). One of the remaining remnants of the old construction is the outer wall (about 8 feet thick and considered impenetrable).

Now we move onto the sacrilege.

The Bank received by Act of Parliament first the right to acquire a neighbouring church under the proviso not to build on the church ground – being holy and all – but wanting architectural uniformity they built on it anyway thus precipitating another Act of Parliament. The new church yard is a garden in the centre of the complex and generally only used by the Governor.

So just remember if ever being chased by demons and seeking sanctuary in the Bank of England don’t go to the courtyard trying to find holy ground.

Through the Governor’s office (scrupulously empty of paperwork I assume because of the tours and not because s/he is a giant slacker) and into a parade of various rooms outlining the pomp, prestige and power of this establishment. If you ever wanted to look at chandeliers and gold then this is the tour for you.

We’ve now finished the tour and enter the museum. This is the something of a downside as we enter at the back of the museum thus missing the introductory panels. Although upon walking through (all of the museum) you will find much was covered in the tour anyway.

Without the tour (and/or if you get the audio tour) you’ll presumably get about the same amount of information as the guided experience. The museum is free so you might as well stick your head in here and check it out as an opportunity to appreciate this instiution. Taking the tour adds an extra flavour to the building and its history but as it is only rarely offered you may have to content yourself with the self guided exploration.

At the end of the day it is about finance and ultimately what you can get out of the museum is going to be based on how you stomach the development of the banking sector.

Photos at Flickr (sorry you can’t take any on the tour).

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