Not all banks are created equal. On Threadneedle Street in England, a bank has served clients that span over three centuries. That’s more than three hundred years of solid banking history. Today, the Bank of England Museum (housed within the Bank of England) looks back at the history of this esteemed institution from its inception by royal charter in 1694 to its current as the United Kingdom’s central bank. The walk through time promises to be fantastic, and if you are smart enough to pass the test, you will even get a chance to heft a real Roman gold bar.
The museum houses early examples of banknotes dating from the 17th century. Marvel at banknote draft designs from different generations and a broad collection of coins from the royal mint. Each piece tells a story of contemporary people, places, and icons revered. But not everything here is real. Expect to see an amusing collection of banknote forgeries, some clever and others ridiculously counterfeit. To help you determine a forgery, there are instructions on methods of detection, both past and present.
Even antique furniture, most of it used by bank directors over the centuries, has found a place in the collection. Uncover documents relating to famous customers such as Horatio Nelson, George Washington and the Duchess of Marlborough. Computer technology and audio visual displays detail the Bank’s present day role.
Of course, no bank can stand without formidable security. Aside from antique silver, statuary, and banking paraphernalia such as weights, scales, keys, and calculators, the Bank of England Museum also puts on display the weaponry like pikes and muskets which were used to defend bank premises.
If you think you’re ready for the challenge, take the mental aptitude tests that applicants joining the bank in Victorian London were required to pass. As a visitor, you’re only given the opportunity to hold a genuine gold bar that weights around 13 kilograms if you ace the quiz. It helps if you drop by the Timeline first to review what happened on 27 key dates in the Bank’s history, starting with its foundation in 1694 and ending with the decision to give it responsibility to set the interest rate in 1997.
Created for people of all ages, interests and abilities, the museum offers a variety of talks and presentations for groups of between 15 and 50 visitors. They’re also free but you have to book in advance. The presentations include Money (a 45-minute presentation that discusses ways to identify a genuine banknote and the profile of gold), Pounds and Pence (a 60-minute cross-curricular simplified lecture about money and the economy), Keeping on an even keel – The role of the Bank of England Q&A (a 60-minute interactive exchange for people with a business or financial background), Audio Visual (an informative 60-minute tour of the bank’s main role and functions today), and Introduction to the Museum (a short 10-minute talk about the history of the Bank of England and its architecture).
Open from 10am to 5pm on weekdays, there is absolutely no bank charge to get in. It is closed on weekends, public and bank holidays. All visitor’s bags are put through a security scanner before you’re allowed inside. You may pick up your free map and guide from the Information Desk. A small museum shop at the end of the museum tour sells really nice souvenirs.