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What Is the Bank of England Museum?

By Marlene Garcia
Updated May 23, 2024
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The Bank of England Museum sits inside the central bank on Threadneedle Street in London. It houses artifacts and exhibits tracing the bank’s history from its inception in 1694 to the present. Furniture, documents, coins, banknotes, and gold bars are on display at the Bank of England Museum, which is open free to the public. The museum also offers special events for children that change each year.

Coin collections at the museum range from samples used when the bank first opened to coins and tokens used over the years. Its banknote collection is considered one of the most complete displays worldwide. Drawings and sketches by the original designers of early banknotes are also displayed in the museum. Other artwork shows the external and internal architecture of the building and paintings depicting early bank directors.

A small exhibit of tools and furniture offers a glimpse of the bank’s function as the second oldest central bank in the world. Clocks and antique chairs likely served bank directors when setting financial policy. Old typewriters, calculators, and balancing weights represent other tools of the financial industry at the time.

The Bank of England Museum sits in part of the institution that covers more than 3 acres (1.2 hectare). Banking functions moved to the current location in 1734, with several expansions taking place through the years on land previously housing bars, a church, and family residences. The building consists of stones hung from a steel frame, designed by architect Sir John Soane.

Two documented stories point to the unusual history of the site, with both tales illustrated in the Bank of England Museum. Excavators unearthed a coffin constructed of lead and measuring 7 feet 6 inches long (226 centimeters) in 1933. The body was identified as an unusually tall, 31-year-old former bank clerk who died in 1798. He was buried in the bank’s garden area early one day because officials believed the corpse might be stolen for medical research.

The second event began with an unsigned letter to bank officials in 1836 from a man boasting he could access the gold vault through the sewer system. The anonymous sewer repairman offered to meet bank directors one night to prove his claim. He actually succeeded in entering the vault through an old drainage pipe after prying loose floorboards inside the vault. Once the security problem surfaced, the problem was solved and the repairman received a reward for his honesty.

Since 1997, the Bank of England has served as the central bank of the government. It sets interest rates, as needed, to address inflation, and promotes economic stability for the United Kingdom. The Bank of England Museum displays a timeline showing how the bank evolved into a public institution.

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