The Bank of England – Part VI

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Part VI of our series on the origins of the Bank of England – its from the book London – Volume 3 published in 1824 by Sholto and Reuben Percy – Brothers of the Benedictine Monastery.

Read other posts in this series on the Bank of England

Read other posts in the London series

The Bank of England – Part VI

The business of the Bank of England was at first carried on at Grocer’s Hall, and continued to be transacted there until the year 1734, although the increase of the establishment had long rendered larger premises desirable. At length, in 1732, it was determined to erect a new building of sufficient magnitude, and the site chosen, was the house and garden of Sir John Houblon, the first governor of the company, in Threadneedle Street. The original building has since received so many additions, that it becomes more difficult to trace the architectural than the commercial growth of the establishment. The first edifice, which formed but a small portion of the vast fabric which now constitutes the Bank of England, was raised under the direction, and according to the designs, of Mr. George Sampson, and was opened for business on the 1st of June, 1734.

This building was soon found insufficient for the increasing business of the company, and some adjoining houses and ground having been obtained, wings were added under the direction of Sir Robert Taylor. In [1788], Mr. Soane succeeded as architect to the Bank, and to him is the present building indebted for its principal ornaments, particularly the rotunda. Mr.Soane had also the re-constructing of the principal part of the interior, which he has rendered much more commodious. From Mr. Soane’s first appointment to the present time, there has scarcely a year elapsed in which he has not been engaged, either in making some addition to the building, or in re-modelling and simplifying the arrangement of the interior; nor has he yet completed his work, but has recently added what may justly be considered the most splendid portion of this noble edifice. This consists of a new wing at the east end of the Bank; the elevation forms a colonnade of six fluted Corinthian columns which connect two pavilions; the columns do not form a portico, being barely insulated from the wall. The entablature, which is surmounted with a very fine parapet, has its frieze enriched with Vitruvian fret. The whole possesses much novelty, boldness, and elegant effect.

The whole building occupies an area of nearly four acres. The centre of the south front erected by Sampson, is eighty feet long, and is of the Ionic order. The two wings, added by Sir Robert Taylor, were copied from a building by Bramante, in the Belvedere gardens at Borne, and, although neat, did not harmonize with the centre. The north and west fronts have been erected by Mr. Soane, who, in this, as well as in several other parts of the Bank, has indulged in his favourite attachment to the Grecian architecture, which he has introduced in the purest style.

It is, however, in the interior of the Bank that the skill of the architect is displayed to the greatest advantages. The rotunda, where the money-changers assemble to traffic in real or fictitious stock, is a fine octagonal room, fifty-seven feet in diameter, and covered by a dome; the whole building being of stone. It was erected in [1795], under the direction of Mr. Soane. The court room, the pay-hall, the offices for the several kinds of stock, the hall, the apartments for the accommodation of the governor, the directors, and the cashiers, with the various offices requisite for the accommodation of eleven hundred clerks, who are now employed in the Bank, are all admirably suited for the purposes for which they are constructed, and nothing can exceed the order and regularity with which the business is conducted. As a whole, however, the Bank, from its having been built at different periods, presents several architectural anomalies and incongruities, and a confusion of orders as varied as the Babel-like confusion of tongues heard in the rotunda when a sudden fluctuation in the funds has created a multitude of hopes and fears among the clamourous multitude who usually assemble there during office hours.

Over the hall of the Bank there is a curious clock, which, by communicating rods, indicates the march of time in sixteen distinct offices, where dial plates are placed; thus obviating the inconvenience which might arise in the transacting of business in the funds by the variation of different clocks.

Excerpt from London Volume 3 1824 by Sholto and Reuben Percy – Brothers of the Benedictine Monastery

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Further reading and external links

The Bank of England on Wikipedia 

The Bank of England Archives