21 July 2014 – Spring 2015
An exhibition to mark the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War in the summer of 1914.
During the summer of 1914, nervousness in the financial markets reflected grave concern over the political situation in Europe. This loss of confidence deepened into panic at the end of July as armies mobilised and war became inevitable.
Crowds gathered outside the Bank of England, as fearful investors scrambled to exchange their paper money for gold. The London Stock Exchange closed and lending by the banks began to dry up. The war effort was about to be starved of vitally-needed funds in the most severe crisis of the twentieth century.
This exhibition will examine the way the Bank of England intervened to combat this crisis and help maintain the flow of funds for the war effort. Yet there were also logistical challenges in maintaining ‘business as usual’ which would ultimately change the Bank forever.
From the beginning of the war men were under great pressure to volunteer, and out of a pre-war staff of around 1,300 just over 400 took leave to serve with the armed forces. Yet the Bank’s work remained vital to the war effort, and over the course of the next four years the total number of staff would rise to nearly 4,000. Nearly 2,500 of the new staff were women, some of whom would remain on the permanent staff after the end of the war. The needs of such an increased workforce ultimately led to the rebuilding and expansion of the Bank in the 1920s.
Throughout the exhibition, the display will follow the stories of some of its staff throughout the war – both the men and women whose work at the Bank was vital to the war effort, and those who fought abroad. Of those members of Bank staff who served in the armed forces, 71 lost their lives during the First World War. The final part of the exhibition will show how the Bank commemorated them at the end of the war, and continues to remember them today.