Stories from the City: The Bank of England in literature

The new polymer £10 note, featuring author Jane Austen, was issued on 14 September 2017. In celebration, this exhibition explores the Bank of England’s literary connections and appearances over the last three centuries.

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This exhibition will be available until Friday 14 September 2018 

This new exhibition at the Bank of England Museum explores the Bank’s literary connections and celebrates the launch of the new Jane Austen £10 note

Visitors will be able to find out more about the new £10 note, and learn about its high-tech security features. The exhibition will also take a look at the life of Jane Austen, and in particular the theme of money that runs throughout her work. This includes the ‘single men in possession of a good fortune’ in Pride and Prejudice, and the political and economic circumstances of the war which made fortunes for characters like Captain Wentworth in Persuasion.

'I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading!'

Jane Austen is not the first writer to appear on a Bank of England note. William Shakespeare appeared on the £20 note between 1970 and 1991, and Charles Dickens appeared on the £10 note between 1992 and 2000. Dickens wrote about the Bank of England in both his fiction – it appears as a location in the Pickwick Papers, among other works – and his journalistic writings. The exhibition will include artwork for the Dickens banknote, banknote designs by Dickens’ friend Daniel Maclise, and examples of forgeries examined by Dickens in his journal, Household Words.

The display will also explore the stories of other writers and works related to the Bank of England, the City of London and finance more generally. Kenneth Grahame, author of The Wind in the Willows, was among the Bank’s most senior officials by the time he retired in 1908, but he also had a parallel career as one of the most popular writers of the time.

A further look around the City of London reveals other notable writers who spent time behind a clerk’s desk. Charles Lamb joined the ranks of the East India Company in 1792, and worked there for a quarter of a century. The two impatient years that PG Wodehouse spent at HSBC before he left to pursue his career as a writer will have provided ample material for his novel Psmith in the City. Most surprisingly, the routine and stability of office life proved pivotal for TS Eliot, who published one of his most celebrated works, The Waste Land, while working at Lloyds Bank, just across the road from the Bank of England. 

Thefts, heists and financial crises have also inspired their fair share of stories. In Around the World in Eighty Days, Phileas Fogg embarks on his quest to circle the globe following a theft at the Bank of England. Financial crises became an important theme for writers such as George Eliot, who visited the Bank of England in 1874 and signed a ‘giant’ (£1,000) banknote, which makes up part of this exhibition. Another novel, Ovington’s Bank by Stanley J Weyman, features a fictionalised account of the 1825 banking crisis, during which one of the Bank of England’s first successful interventions to stem a financial crisis took place. The last few years have seen another burst of literature focused on the most recent financial crisis, from David Hare’s play The Power of Yes to novels such as John Lanchester’s Capital. 

This page was last updated 16 May 2019

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