Cartoons and caricatures

Discover why the Bank of England is sometimes called the 'Old Lady of Threadneedle Street'.

Some of the cartoons and caricatures in our collection are by famous artists. They were published in popular satirical magazines like Punch.

Others were created by Bank of England employees and reflect their daily working life. 

1797

The Old Lady of Threadneedle Street

The Bank of England is sometimes called the ‘Old Lady of Threadneedle Street’. The name stems from this caricature by James Gillray (1756–1815).

Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger (1859–1806) appears to be seducing an elderly woman, who represents the Bank of England. His real intention is to get his hands on the gold in her money-chest… 

James Gillray, Political Ravishment: The Old Lady of Threadneedle Street in Danger, 1797, 0277(ii)2

James Gillray, Political Ravishment: The Old Lady of Threadneedle Street in Danger, 1797, 0277(ii)2

1894

Mismanagement woes

The Bank of England is again represented by an elderly woman. 

This time, she is crossing a muddy road marked ‘mismanagement’.

The mismanagement was by Chief Cashier Frank May. He had recently left his job in disgrace after a series of financial irregularities came to light. 

This is a drawing for cartoon published in Punch magazine in 1894.

John Tenniel, A Dirty Crossing, 1894, 0525 (i)

John Tenniel, A Dirty Crossing, 1894, 0525 (i)

1935

The Old Lady avoids the guillotine

This cartoon was published in Punch magazine in 1935. It refers to Labour leader Clement Attlee’s desire to nationalise the Bank of England.

Attlee offers the reluctant Old Lady a lift to the guillotine in a carriage labelled ‘nationalisation of banks’.

The Bank of England was eventually nationalised in 1946. 

Bernard Partridge, Nationalisation of Banks, 1935, 0662

Bernard Partridge, Nationalisation of Banks, 1935, 0662

1792

Rowdy stockbrokers banned

Not all cartoons about the Bank of England feature the Old Lady.

This watercolour sketch by Thomas Rowlandson shows a throng of badly-behaved stockbrokers.

Stockbrokers and their clients used the Bank of England’s rotunda (a round room with a dome) as a place to buy and sell stocks. They were so noisy and disruptive they were banned from the building in 1838.

Thomas Rowlandson, The Bank, 1792, 0164

Thomas Rowlandson, The Bank, 1792, 0164

1818

Uproar over fake notes

Here’s a man accused of having a forged banknote being dragged before a committee at the Bank of England. 

The cartoon criticises the poor quality of banknotes.

Even the committee cannot decide if the note is real or not! 

Unknown, a Peek into the Old Rag Shop at the Bank of England, 1818, 0663

Unknown, a Peek into the Old Rag Shop at the Bank of England, 1818, 0663

1800s

Daily life at the Bank of England

Some of the cartoons in our collection were made by people who worked at the Bank of England. 

Robert Browning, the father of the famous poet, worked as a senior clerk at the Bank from 1799 to 1849. 

This drawing by Browning shows a reluctant clerk giving visitors a tour of the building. 

Robert Browning, scrapbook, 1800s, B707

Robert Browning, scrapbook, 1800s, B707

1970s

Humour at the Bank of England

Basil Hone worked at the Bank of England  from 1943 to 1980.

He started as a clerk, eventually becoming editor of the Bank’s internal news summary.

He drew many humorous sketches like this one for the staff magazine, The Old Lady. 

Under the name Ben Shailo, he also used cartoons to comment on the political, financial and economic news for the Daily Telegraph. 

Basil Hone, Cartoon for the Old Lady Magazine, 1970s, 1993/226/014

Basil Hone, Cartoon for the Old Lady Magazine, 1970s, 1993/226/014

c.1995

An artistic gatekeeper

Another artistic Bank of England employee was Danny Denahy.

He worked as a gatekeeper from 1952 to 1992. 

Like Basil Hone, he drew cartoons for the Old Lady Magazine. This one shows scenes from his work as a gatekeeper. 

He also produced designs for Bank of England Christmas cards.

Danny Denahy, Messengers and Gatekeepers, c. 1995, 1997/084

Danny Denahy, Messengers and Gatekeepers, c. 1995, 1997/084

This page was last updated 23 October 2019
Was this page useful?
Add your details...