Alice Beagley, Museum Officer
When the Bank of England first opened for business in 1694, it wasn’t actually located where we are today. We were renting rooms at the Mercer's Hall in Cheapside, London. Back then we only had 19 members of staff. Not very many if you’ll consider the 4,500 people who work for us all over the UK today!
After spending a few months in Cheapside, we moved to the Grocers' Hall in Poultry (close to the building that stands today). But it was in 1734 that we made our final move to date – we moved to our Threadneedle Street home.
As you can imagine, Threadneedle Street looked quite different in the early 1700s. It was made up of a jumble of shops, pubs, and even houses. One of the houses belonged to the Bank of England’s first governor, John Houblon.
When Houblon passed away in 1712 the Bank of England made arrangements to buy his house and some of the surrounding estate. We appointed George Sampson as our first architect. Sampson demolished Houblon’s house, and built one of the country's first purpose-built banks in its place.
Then came Robert Taylor, our next architect, who we appointed in the 1760s. Taylor made the building bigger and added wings to the east and west sides of the building. Extending east was fine, but extensions to the west were a bit more…problematic. A church - St. Christopher-le-Stocks, stood to the west of us, putting a stop to any further extension.
In 1780, riots took place in London. These were known as the Gordon Riots, and were started by Protestants who rallied against the Papists’ Act of 1778. This act granted new freedoms to Catholics in the UK. Eventually these riots grew to involve people who weren’t even protesting against the Papists’ Act.
During the Gordon Riots, a few people climbed on top of St Christopher-le-Stocks and hurled missiles across from the church into the Bank of England. This gave us a good reason to approach Parliament to have the church demolished. Parliament passed an act permitting the demolition of the church in 1782, which allowed Taylor to expand our building further to the west.
Our most famous architect of all, John Soane, created the large island-like site we have today. The work took place from 1788 and finished in 1833 – a whole 45 years later!
Unfortunately, very little of Soane's original work survives today because it was only one storey high. So in the 1920s we demolished Soane’s building to make way for a modern, taller building.
There was public outrage at the time: Nikolaus Pevsner, an architectural historian, described the destruction of Soane's bank as the "greatest architectural crime…of the 20th century". Oops…
Today, all that remains of Soane's original work is the curtain wall that runs around the perimeter of the site. This wall is more than 2.5 metres thick!
Also, one of our museum galleries hosts a reconstruction of Soane's Stock Office (so you can still get a pretty good idea of how Soane used lighting and space in his work without causing any security issues).
The ten storey building that you see today was designed by Herbert Baker. We employed the best artists and craftsmen of the time. The builders constructed our new offices using high quality materials, including:
- Limestone from the Hopton Wood Quarry in Derbyshire, which lines a lot of the walls inside the building.
- Portland Stone for the external walls (to give it that extra grungy dungeon look)
- Bronze, (known for its durability whilst improving with age) for our big external doors, handles and window frames.
Although Baker's designs were criticised at the time, it is an impressive building steeped in symbolism – but more on that another day! Its neoclassical style also makes it appear older than actually is - especially when you compare it to some of the architectural ‘oddities’ in the City of London... I dread to think what Mr. Pevsner would have to say about some of them!
If you would like to see a timeline with images of the buildings mentioned in this post, check out our views of the bank webpage.