Was off to the Bank of England this morning for an open day tour of the building. I have wanted to go inside for simply ages, but the main open day during London Open House Weekend comes attached to a horrendous queue around the building which I simply can’t cope with.
Today however, was another open day and not that well publicised. Nonetheless, I got there early and after waiting barely a few minutes, we were ushered by a pink suited doorman inside and through the usual security features of any modern building.
I joined a group of about fifteen and we were taken around by a bubbly lady who has worked in the Bank for around the past 20 odd years. Upon going inside the main doors, we stopped to learn a bit of the history of the founding of the bank – being set up by William and Mary to finance their war against France – and admire a statue of King William III in Roman dress. The guide then gushed that the statue was very valuable and insured for Â£1.5 million, and my heart sank.
Was this going to be an American style tour where the guide spends more time talking about the insurance value of items and ignoring the far more interesting (for me) history of the item. Fortunately not – this was the first and last time that the financial worth of something was commented on. Phew!
Moving along – whilst being careful to notice the ornate mosaic flooring – we came to a large foyer, which is the main entrance to the Bank for official types and we got to see a very impressive model of the Bank as it was when the original architect, Sir John Sloane had finished. Alas, almost nothing of that original building survives as the entire interior was gutted in the inter-war years and a brand new, but classical designed building was erected in its place. The only thing from the original building is the massive “curtain wall” which surrounds the building and is in places, some 12 feet thick. The wall was designed to be secure, and when they rebuilt the Bank, they decided that frankly it couldn’t be improved on.
Then on to admire a 7 story high staircase (4 floors up and 3 down) – and it was pointed out that a mosaic at the very bottom of the staircase was not modern, but an original Roman one which was found there when the basement was excavated.
Anyhow, through a memorial garden, which is not even open to staff normally and into the Governors’ office. This is the very room where Mervyn King works each day and we were strictly ordered to stay on a protective carpet and not wander. Although the room itself is from the modern redevelopment, it has a huge desk in there which almost every Governor since the Bank was founded has used.
Onwards and upwards to go into the Committee room, which is where the interest rates are debated each month and then into various other fine rooms for meetings and events.
Overall the tour lasted about half an hour – and was worth it, but only if I hadn’t had to queue up for ages.
However, we then went into the museum – which is open to the public during the week normally, and that is quite impressive. Absolutely loads to see there and I spent at least an hour wandering round looking at the exhibits, which range from the history of the Bank to issues of modern financial markets and on to how bank notes are designed and made.
If anything, I think the museum was a better part of the visit than the tour of the building – which is rare indeed.
As a final moment, there is an actual gold bullion bar in a plastic case with a small hole for your hand and you can try to lift the bar – which I just about managed. I knew gold was heavy, but Blimy! it was a lot heavier than I expected.
The Bank will be open for tours on London Open House Weekend, and if you get there very early to avoid the queues, then it is worth the visit.
Alas, absolutely no photography is permitted inside.