The Bank of England may be famous all over the world, however its inner workings have often been the source of considerable mystery. From the 18th January, a new free exhibition entitled Capturing the City: Photography at the Bank of England will attempt to illuminate some of the often surprising history of the Bank, its buildings and staff.
The exhibition is based on the photographic collection of the Bank of England Archive and presents a largely unseen and unique history of the Bank and its city since the mid-19th century.
One of the highlights of the exhibition is the series of images related to the previous building on the site. In 1788, Sir John Soane was appointed as ‘Architect and Surveyor’ to the Bank and worked until 1828 to extend its original building, the Bank was Soane’s main pre-occupation for 45 years and he considered it one of his great achievements. His structure remained until it was demolished when Sir Herbert Baker’s built a larger building between 1925 and 1939. The windowless ‘curtain’ wall on Threadneedle Street is the only part of Soane’s original building standing today and the exhibition presents photographs of the lost ‘Old Bank’, with views of Soane’s vestibules, Bullion Yard, Court Room suites and courtyard.
In this set is also a photograph of seven-and-a- half-feet-long lead coffin of the ‘Bank Giant’, a former clerk whose coffin was discovered in 1933 on the site of the old Garden Court. The clerk, William Jenkins was allowed to be buried inside the Bank in 1798, to protect his body from body snatchers.
Other highlights include those involving the staff of the bank who carried on their activities through two world wars, images of the periods include gas mask-clad staff in the Gas Contamination Room and surgical operations taking place in the Emergency Operating Theatre in the Bank’s Sub-Vault.
Views of London buildings illuminated at night and scenes of the Coronations of George V and Queen Mary, George VI and Edward VII illustrate the importance of the Bank at the centre of the City of London. Many of these external scenes of national celebration are contrasted with the internal activities of the staff who often within the high walls were cut off from the activities of the streets outside.
This exhibition gives a glimpse into the hidden world of the Bank of England and provides insight into the often strange role the bank plays in the British economy. Most of the large buildings in London were built to impress the people passing by, the Bank in contrast, with its oppressive wall offers no views of its architecture. However as the photographs illustrate, the Bank within the walls has maintained a large workforce for hundreds of years, whether it is packing gold bars or helping to control the economy. It is this social aspect which will surprise many who attend this intriguing free exhibition.
To mark the opening of the exhibition, the Museum has formed a partnership with the Royal Photographic Society (RPS). RPS photographers have been challenged by the Museum to take photographs of London, inspired by and recreating specific images from the Bank’s archive. The result is a striking new set of comparisons between Victorian and present day London.
The Bank of England Museum has a number of permanent displays you can view if you decide to attend the exhibition. These include galleries featuring Roman and modern gold bars, the country’s oldest paper money and many star objects from the Bank’s collections of silver, banknotes, paintings, coins, photographs and historic documents. Interactive displays explain the Bank’s role in keeping the financial system stable.
Visiting London Guide Rating – Highly Recommended
If you would like further information about the exhibition, visit the Bank of England website here
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