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The Wind in the Willows Display
To mark the 100th anniversary of the publication of 'The Wind in the Willows' on 8 October 1908, the Bank's Museum has opened a new, permanent display celebrating the career of its author, Kenneth Grahame, who worked at the Bank for thirty years. The display includes previously unseen and unpublished documents illuminating the non-literary career of the writer.
The display reveals details of Grahame's long Bank career. It examines the questions surrounding his sudden resignation from the Bank, possible influences on his writing and the strange incident in 1903, which saw him shot at by an intruder who was later certified.
Among the items on display are Grahame's vivid resignation letter, written just four months before the publication of 'The Wind in the Willows', which identifies the mental pressures which he cited as his reason for resigning, as well as letters from the Bank's doctor who gave a contradictory assessment of Grahame's mental health. The display also includes the official Bank House (staff) Lists from 1879 and 1908, recording Grahame's entry to, and exit from, the Bank, his starting salary and final pension details. He was entitled to a pension of £710 but was granted £400 by the Bank's directors. Ouch.
John Keyworth, Curator of the Museum, said "Grahame's Bank career is little-known, but it is very likely that his thirty-year career had some influence on his writing; either the direct influence of colleagues on the famous characters he created or the atmosphere of life at the grand old institution imbuing his work. Grahame's departure from the Bank is quite mysterious. His resignation letter goes to some lengths to describe his mental state, but this was not entirely confirmed by the Bank's doctor and there is a suggestion that a separate on-going dispute with Director (and future Governor), Walter Cunliffe, may have been the cause of Grahame's early departure. For whatever reason, the final pension awarded to Grahame was about half the amount he would normally have expected, so there was clearly a dispute of some kind. Although 'The Wind in the Willows' was published shortly after Grahame left the Bank, he did not write much more in the twenty four years that he lived after resigning."
Copyright EHS Ltd 2008
Among the other exhibits is a letter of 23 April 1907, in which the children of King George V (the future Edward VIII, George VI, Princess Royal and Duke of Gloucester) thank Grahame for his kindness when they made a surprise visit to the Bank.
Kenneth Grahame joined the Bank of England in 1878 at the age of nineteen, after scoring very high marks in his entrance exam. In fact he was the top candidate in his intake. He worked at the Bank for thirty years, beginning in the Secretary's Department, spending eleven years in the Private Drawing Office and rising through the Clerks' ranks to become Assistant Secretary in 1894 and, four years later, Secretary. At thirty-nine he was one of the youngest to take up the post, which he held for ten years.
Among the more unusual incidents in Grahame's Bank career took place on 24 November 1903, when a man entered the Bank and asked to speak to the Governor. Grahame was made available instead and was invited by the man to take a rolled up document from him and to choose which end to take. Eventually, Grahame took the document but apparently chose the wrong end, as the man suddenly produced a gun, turned it on Grahame and fired three times. Each shot missed. Having escaped injury, Grahame managed to lock the man in the waiting room and returned with Bank messengers, who overpowered the man by blasting him with a fire hose.