Since 1734, the Bank of England has stood loftily at its Threadneedle Street site in central London, and its internal operations have remained somewhat enigmatic ever since. Its design was put into the capable hands of one of England’s most famous architects, Sir John Soane as the Bank’s designated architect and surveyor, and became his almost life-long, 45-year project from 1788 until his retirement in 1833.
Extending the site from a puny 80 feet wide by 300 feet long to a more befitting 3.5 acres, sealed with an imposing, windowless wall, Soane’s slowly perfected creation was lamentably demolished in 1925 and replaced with a new, ten-storey construction by architect Sir Herbert Baker. Although different, its latter-day silhouette has lost none of its formidable mystery. Testament to its allure is the fact that in recent years the veil has been annually lifted to the public, as the Bank allows visitors to explore a close look behind the scenes free of charge. The Open Door and Open House events enable curious minds to be satiated with rare sights of the Bank’s interior architecture, and visit the rooms in which some of the UK’s most significant financial decisions are made.
Founded in 1694 as only the second of its kind in the world, the Bank of England was originally set up as the Government’s banker and debt-manager, and now manages the nation’s currency as the centre of the UK’s financial system. While it is far from being a pride-inducing landmark of the British economy in the present climate, its inner workings are well worth a look on a purely architectural – not to mention cultural and historical – level. The Garden Court with its symbolic mulberry trees will also be revealed, as will the merchant-forecasting wind-dial of the Court Room.
The opening dates, on two Saturdays in June (23rd and 30th) and over a weekend in September (22nd-23rd), coincide with an exhibition entitled ‘Gold and the Bank of England’, revealing an anecdotal documentation of the role of gold in the Bank’s more than 300-year history.