Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Summer Reading

Here are some London history books I’ve read recently.

Diamond Street by Rachel Lichtenstein
Diamond Street Rachel LichtensteinThis book was published a few years ago and it’s been on my reading list for some time. Finally cracked it and so glad I did. Diamond Street refers to Hatton Garden and its surrounding area, just north of Holborn Circus, for over a century the centre of London’s diamond trade, along with associated industries. I don’t know why, but I expected this to be a straight timeline historical narrative of London’s diamond trade. While it is that to an extent, it’s a very much a personal account, introducing us as it does to many of the characters of the Hatton Garden trade, many elderly and indeed, since the book’s publication, now passed away. Of these, the author’s own husband, parents and extended family played their part.  Diamond Street describes a world of Jewish immigrants, often in desperate straits, who arrive in London and set to work in the business, usually from the very bottom  as runners, messengers and the like. They become become traders, jewellers, craftsmen, cutters, polishers. They work hard and do business by an unwritten code of honour and honesty. Break the code and you’re finished. Forever. We find out how through their efforts – the setting up of London’s diamond bourse and other institutions – London became the diamond capital of the world. But it’s about the street as much as the precious stones, so Lichtenstein casts her net somewhat wider to include other businesses in the locale – I particularly enjoyed reading about the legendary department store Gamages, closed in the 1960s; and the global leader in metallurgy, the venerable Johnson Matthey, until their smells, fumes and explosions caused them eventually to vacate the area, although they’re still going strong to this day.

Tales from the Hanging Court by Tim Hitchcock and Robert Shoemaker

tales from the hanging court hitchcock and shoemakerLike Diamond Street, above, this is not a new book, but I’m about half way through it and I must include it because it’s so good. Hitchcock and Shoemaker are professors at Sussex and Sheffield Universities respectively (honourable mention to University of Hertfordshire, where Hitchcock worked until recently). They collaborate closely on digitising historic records relating to (but not restricted to) criminality and the daily lives of London’s lower orders, resulting in the superb web sites Old Bailey Online and London Lives. This book features around thirty cases heard at the Old Bailey from the late 17th until the early 20th Centuries. They involve pick-pocketing, fraud, rioting, murder, highway robbery. Notorious cases are included, such as the Gordon Riots, Dr Dodd, the “Macaroni Parson”, the Newgate Monster. Big personalities of the age – Garrow, the Fieldings – put in appearances. Court dialogue is heavily quoted. The book is alive with drama, fizzing with tension. I must mention the authors’ introduction which sets the scene and puts everything in context: a quite superb 13 page essay which alone is worth the cover price. I anticipate regretting coming to the end of this excellent history book.

London’s Rubbish by Peter Hounsell

london's rubbish peter hounsellI love reading the history of things we take for granted. This is exactly that. This book examines how we disposed of waste from 1800 to the present. What is interesting  it that it is tempting to think of the privitisation of public utitilites as a political hot potato of modern times. Not so for the historian, of course. Here we see that, like with energy, water, health and so on, waste disposal changed hands between public and private constantly over the years. In the late Georgian period when our story starts, the responsibility for public waste disposal was the reponsibility of local vestries who would put the job out to tender. Because most waste was dust and ashes which was used to make bricks during a period of massive expansion in London, the business was so lucrative that contractors paid the vestries, not the other way around. In fact the business was so rewarding that rogue contractors would trespass on the routes of the incumbent providers much to their chagrin. But as supply eventually succeeded demand, this eventually changed to a situation that we’d recognise today. Over the years, waste has changed in quality and quantity and in the method of getting rid of it. Essentially we bury it, we burn it or we crush it. And all of it during the cycle of disposal has to be transported by road and by water. No surprise that so many depots were sited near canals and the Thames. Areas such as Paddington became the rubbish capitals of the capital so to speak. There is a generous section of illustrations in the centre of the book featuring all manner of dust carts, incinerators and destructors. Beautifully researched, an intriguing book.

London’s Markets: from Smithfield to Portobello Road by Stephen Halliday
london's markets, stephen hallidayPublished this year to mark 1,000 years of a market at Borough in one form or another, this book celebrates the hundreds of markets that have occupied London down the years. There are the obvious ones of the title, along with Covent Garden, Leadenhall, Billingsgate – cathedrals built by some of our most renown architects and selling the obvious daily requirements: meat, veg, fish, flowers, clothes and miscellaneous tat. Then the intangibles, commodities that make London an international capital of finance: insurance, exchange, currency, stock, bonds. Through the middle ages we very much relied on wool and associated fabrics for our international trade and allowed Italian bankers, the Hanseatic League and their ilk the run of the place in third party trades. That was until Thomas Gresham gave us our own bourse – the Royal Exchange – and Merchant Adventurers, the British East India Company and others rose from nowhere and we were on our way. Insurance, home-grown banks  and a plethora of stock companies followed. These churches of high finance are given the full treatment in this book, so the author has been thorough in range and depth without getting too bogged down – all too easy when covering City institutions. We return in the final chapters to street markets. Covent Garden is very well done, along with markets in specific areas: the East End, Camden, and so on. There’s a handy timeline chronology at the end (I love those) and a good index. Overall, this is a nice, pacy history that  you’ll knock out in three or four hours and get a good sense of the topic.
List price: £12.99 – available for less.

The Story of St Katharine’s by Christopher West
st katharine's docks, chris westImmediately east of the Tower of London and Tower Bridge, we find St Katharine Docks. This can take one by surprise (it did me) since it is successfully obscured by the Tower Hotel. It comprises two docks and a central basin, occupied by a variety of craft, among which we find luxury yachts, Thames barges, Winston Churchill’s funeral barge, and the gorgeous royal barge Gloriana. The dock is girded by the hotel as mentioned, luxury apartments, trendy shops, cafes and restaurants. If you can’t afford to live there, it’s a delightful place to hang out. The dock itself was designed by Thomas Telford and opened in 1829, relatively late in the story of London’s docks. To enable this to happen the ancient church of St Katharine by the Tower, the old hospital buildings and over 10,000 slum dwellings were swept away. The original Hospital of St Katharine by the Tower (after Katharine of Alexandria) was founded in 1148 by the formidable Queen Matilda and in the main has had a female patron and protector (usually the monarch’s wife) down the centuries, even to its current home in Limehouse. It has always managed to stay independent from its close neighbour, the City of London, a fact which definitely informs its character. This book, written by local resident and London Historians member Chris West, tells the extraordinary story of this historic location. It’s in three parts: the story of the medieval hospital and church; Telford’s docks, the Blitz and final closure in 1968; 21C regeneration. There are many heroes and heroines in this story, deftly told. An excellent introduction to a fascinating London district.

The Story Of St Katharine’s is on sale at various locations around St K Docks, particularly Nauticalia – Chris is pleased to send signed copies if you email him at thestoryofstk@outlook.com or you can order via his website www.charlesdickenslondon.net.

 

Temples of London by Roger Williams.
the temples of london roger williamsSubtitled “Inspired buildings”, the author takes us through London’s significant buildings of historic, social, commercial or architectural importance. Divided in to six sections such as Commerce, Industry etc and further diced into three to five chapters featuring about three buildings each, the book must cover around 70 – 100 buildings. Physically, it’s sort of diary format – back pocket size, if you like – and is the type of book one can read in any order, pick and mix style. In the most part, the buildings chosen are not mainstream and touristy although you would know most of them. Williams’s writing is solid, concise and a bit lyrical with humour skimming the surface and frequently a great turn of phrase. In short: great reading. Although you can tell that the author is an admire of all these buildings, he remains even-handed, non-judgemental. So, for example, on the chapter about Harrods, Selfridges and Westfield, he tells us about the Diana and Dodi shrine completely matter of factly. I particularly enjoyed reading about the stations of the Jubilee Line Extension. I have admired these all along, but having read this chapter about the architects and the design of them, I better understand why. The architect Ronald Paoletti is quoted being very sniffy indeed about Pick and Holden of old so the author doesn’t have to; even as an admirer of Holden, that made me smile.  Temples of London is a difficult book to pigeon-hole. But that doesn’t matter: it’s a super read and you’ll cut through it.
List price: £7.00

The Story of Mayfair from 1664 Onwards by Peter Wetherall and others. 
the story of mayfairAt around 75 pages, this book is an overtly commercial publication, published by Wetherall of Mayfair, an upmarket property company. But it is well-written and beautifully produced, giving you the basics of how Mayfair developed. It’s divided into seven chapters, each identified by the author or authors as a “Step Change”, so it goes Step Change 1: 1660s – 1720s. From Mud to Mansions; Step Change 2: 1721 – 1850. Heyday of the Aristocrats. And so on. This approach is further galvanised by a timeline ribbon which runs along the bottom of most pages, from 1664 – 1914. Our story progresses over time by explaining the nature of wealthy, from landed aristocracy through new money of trade and finance and all the while the styles of these huge town houses progress in appearance and opulence and fashion. But the strength of the print edition is the illustrations, photographs, engravings etc, beautifully reproduced in a beautifully designed layout on luxury paper, which may explain its price tag.

the story of mayfair
Print edition: £25. Kindle edition: 77p

Free ebook download.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A guest post by Luke Rees.

Gambling has long been ingrained in British society. This is perhaps due to the historically rigid class system and the fact that gambling is one of the most efficient redistributors of wealth – or simply due to the fact that, for many, gambling can be a lot of fun – the British have long had a deep and meaningful relationship with Lady Luck.

A relatively static working-class gaming culture has existed in taverns, inns, and various other dens up and down the country for over a millennia. In these primitive establishments, gambling was generally associated with some form of physical violence – animal baiting and other gruesome blood sports sadly being the most popular subjects for betting on. However, games of chance such as ‘hazard’, ‘queek’ and ‘chequers’ (all of which are played with dice and demand no skill) were commonplace from as early as the fourteenth century.

It was during the late eighteenth century that gambling became more sophisticated in England and began to influence all levels of society. This was a century of contrasts: an ‘Age of Enlightenment’, but one which propagated slavery and colonial expansion; an age of industrial and technological innovation, but with a corresponding escalation in poverty and squalor. In this period of contradictions and inequality, it was the palliative effects of gambling that seemed to hold universal appeal.

Thomas Rowlandson

‘The Hazard Room’ – a 1792 painting by Thomas Rowlandson.

The epicentre of British gambling migrated from Bath to London in the late eighteenth century, where many exclusive clubs began attracting men from the upper echelons of society. Between 1600 and 1880 London developed into a global centre for commerce, with its population increasing from 200,000 to around five million. The availability of luxuries increased at this time, as did a boom in the economy spurred by a diversifying trade system. This system allowed businesses to run on borrowed capital, which subsequently popularised the idea of speculation as a way of making profit. It is no wonder that a society addicted to luxury and speculation also institutionalised and glamorised gambling.

Some of the most famous gentlemen’s clubs of London included White’s, Brook’s, The Cocoa Tree, and Almack’s, and were often referred to as ‘golden halls’ (in contrast to the ‘copper hells’ which the lower classes frequented). These clubs developed out of coffeehouses and other existing meeting places for the privileged classes. White’s, for example, developed from a regular meeting of wealthy men at a chocolate house.

Membership to a gentlemen’s club was vital to the integrity of a man of standing. Each club had particular political affiliations and offered the member, through proximity to men of state and lawmakers, the opportunity for corporate and political networking. But don’t imagine these clubs were merely the setting for sober and serious dinner talk! This was a social, rather than a professional setting, and these men could drink, carouse, and gamble as rowdily as the next common swindler. The only difference was that the stakes were much lower, and the bets much higher.

The early nineteenth century was primed for an explosion in frivolous consumption from the aristocracy. Peace had returned to Europe after forty years of war with Napoleon, and a generation of bored young aristocrats found themselves with far too much time and money on their hands. Gentlemen’s clubs offered these men the chance to waste huge sums of money betting against the house and each other. In a society obsessed with wealth and status, this form of conspicuous consumption was a way to pass time, but also an important way for the aristocracy to assert itself.

The types of games played in gentlemen’s clubs were also a means for the aristocracy set itself apart from the lower classes. Whilst the majority of games played in the ‘hells’ were based on pure luck, gambling in gentlemen’s clubs required skill. As a result, playing cards were the main device used by the aristocracy, since they were more expensive than dice and involved more sophisticated games.

Whist was the most popular gentleman’s game and is a precursor to the modern game of Bridge. It involves a high level of concentration to keep track of cards, as well as knowledge of the extensive technical jargon. This was an exclusive game for the well-educated, and a skilful card player would be revered and respected by his peers. This was also a betting game, and the players who bet big could gain notoriety. The Duke of Wellington allegedly bet £100,000 on whist on any evening at White’s.

A game of whist.

A game of whist depicted by Samuel William Fores

Whites is the oldest existing gentleman’s club in London, and its books give us a glimpse into the absurd nature of the gambling culture that existed during the nineteenth century. Because money and time were not an issue for these men, there are numerous examples of bets made which appear simply in order to combat boredom. For example, ‘April, 1819. Sir Joseph Copley bets Mr Horace Sermour five guineas, that Lord Temple has a legitimate child before Mr. Neville.’

At other times the wagers could have a much darker side. Horace Walpole recollected an infamous bet made between two of White’s members that a man could survive for 12 hours under water. Allegedly the men hired a ‘desperate fellow’, sunk a ship with him on board, and never heard from him again (the stake was £1,500). Although there is no evidence in White’s books of this bet being made, it helps to illustrate the rampant gambling culture that existed.

Brook’s is often considered the most infamous and fashionable of the top clubs, with the average age of its members being just 26. Needless to say, aristocratic manners and gentility were not the priority for these young patrons. A peculiar etching from 1772 depicts the club’s members around the gambling table, all dressed up as witches and uttering a spell: ‘Double, bubble, toil and trouble. Passions burn and bets are double!’ It seems gambling was a ritualistic compulsion for these men – a compulsion undercut by the caption to the photo which delivers a fateful prophecy: ‘ruin enters as fate runs out’.

The dissolute Regency Period saw the craze of heavy gambling reach fever pitch. William Crockford was one of the most prominent figures of this age, whose incredible rags to riches tale was fuelled entirely by his aptitude for gambling. Beginning his career as a fishmonger, half a century later he had founded the ‘Crockford’s’ gambling club and become one of the wealthiest men in England (worth the equivalent of £95 million today).

crockford's

Crockford’s original location at 50 St. James’s Street.

Crockford made his fortune taking money from the pockets of reckless aristocrats, thereby helping to democratise the British gambling culture. And whilst he cut away the elite nature of gaming, the government also cracked down on the spread of new ‘hells’ at the bottom end of society. Clubs and gambling houses held different motives and intentions by this time, with the divide between upper and lower class gaming rituals gradually being reduced. Towards the middle of the nineteenth century, the establishment of institutionalised gambling – the casino – had emerged.

_____________________________________________________________________________

Luke is a history writer from London who is associated with Europalace Casino. He enjoys reading, cooking, and playing piano.

 

 

 

The most famous of London’s many bridges celebrates its 120th birthday this year. Horace Jones’s masterwork was opened by the Prince of Wales on 30 June 1894, nine years after the Act of Parliament was passed to bring it into being.

To mark the occasion, the Guildhall Art Gallery has just launched an exhibition of representations of Tower Bridge down the years. Like Sir Charles Barry and others before him, Jones didn’t live to see the completion of his most prestigious project. He is remembered here at the entrance to the show with his most famous portrait along with that of his engineer, John Wolf Barry, son of Sir Charles himself.

Tower Bridge, Guildhall Art Gallery

Charles Pears (1873-1958), Blitz. Our London Docks, 1940, oil on canvas. Guildhall Art Gallery, City of London.

After this, the bridge itself is the only star. There are many dozens of depictions spanning over a century. They include water colours, oils, pencil drawings, and photographs. Most notable of the latter are an amazing survival from the early 1890s of the bridge being built and we are reminded that for all appearances, this is a steel bridge with cladding. There are also fine engineering plans of the towers, along with ephemera relating Tower Bridge’s earliest days: invitations and programmes for the opening and even for the laying of the foundation stone. Incredibly elaborate items where Union flags abound. This was, after all, to be the new front door of  the capital of the world’s greatest power at its mightiest.

But by far the biggest element of the show are the paintings. They are in a multitude of media, taken from every viewpoint: the pool of London; Wapping; Rotherhithe; and at least one from the bridge itself. The London skyline, an evocative addition to any landscape features varyingly. But there is another star of the show: it is, of course, the Thames. And with the Thames come boats and boatmen. All subject matter that is a gift to the painter: if you think about it, nothing possibly can go wrong for any artist. There was only one picture I thought was not particularly good, but even it looked delightful thanks to a quite nice tugboat centre stage: it was very much the exception.

So an exhibition featuring images of the most photogenic (and yes, there are old photos too) bridge in the world is hardly going to struggle. But they still have to be sourced, chosen and displayed in a coherent way, and variety here is key. Moody here, frivolous there; the highly detailed rubs shoulders with the broad brush approach. The arranging is broadly chronological without being slavishly so.  The gallery and curator have got this all completely right and the result is delightful. You’d be mad not to go: entrance is free.

120 Years of Tower Bridge (1894-2014) runs from 31 May – 30 June, so not particularly long.

Tower Bridge, Guildhall Art Gallery

William Lionel Wyllie (1851-1931), The Opening Ceremony of the Tower Bridge, 1894-5, oil on canvas.
Guildhall Art Gallery, City of London.

Tower Bridge. Guildhall Art Gallery.

Frank William Brangwyn ARA (1867ÔÇô1956), The Tower Bridge, about 1905, oil on canvas.
Guildhall Art Gallery, City of London.

Tower Bridge, Guildhall Art Gallery

James Page-Roberts (b. 1925), Self-Portrait with Tower Bridge, 1965, oil on canvas. Copyright The Artist.

Tower Bridge, Guildhall Art Gallery.

Judith Evans and Arthur Watson (b. 1949, b. 1946), The Spirit of London, 1981, oil on canvas.
Guildhall Art Gallery, City of London.

Tower Bridge, Guildhall Art Gallery

Mentor Chico (b. 1963), Forever Imagical Tower Bridge 2014, 2014, oil on canvas, copyright The Artist

Review: Eleanor Marx: A Life by Rachel Holmes

A guest post by London Historians Member, Jane Young.

Eleanor Marx A Life Rachel HolmesThe first biography of Eleanor Marx (1855 – 1898) to be written in almost four decades, the 1972 -1976 two volume biography from Yvonne Knapp is a tough act to follow and Rachel Holmes has managed it with a flourish.

Significantly more intricate than a singular rendition of the life of one person, this substantial volume is an adeptly researched piece of social history. Covering poverty in the mid nineteenth century, the plight of European immigrants, infant mortality, working class politics, bohemian society

Charting the progress of Eleanor Marx from right back to before her parents Jenny and Karl had even met; you are invited into the various and numerous homes of the Marx household. There you meet a ramshackle extended family in all its minutiae detail becoming familiar with everything from the furniture they sat on; the clothes they wore; the frequent visitors and the meals they ate. Filled with a wealth of anecdotes taken from journals and letters, this book builds an enchanting picture of a dynasty whose consistently limited housekeeping budget prioritises books, paper and ink as essentials.

Within these pages the radical might of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels become softened as the character of their inextricably linked lifelong relationship, a bond which ultimately fashioned the destiny of Eleanor herself is explained.

Well known dignitaries within the circle of social reform: William Morris; Annie Besant; Clementina Black; Clara Collett; Israel Zangwill; George Bernard Shaw; Elizabeth Garrett Anderson; Beatrice Webb enter stage left.

All human life is here, in an immensely readable well referenced format though Rachel Holmes successfully steers a course away from sentimentality through tragedy compounded by dark family secret. The feisty little girl who at the age of ten lists ‘Champagne’ as her idea of happiness and grows up to make her mark on history is revealed in the most engaging but down to earth narrative: encompassing the commonplace everyday details of friendships; failed relationships; bereavement; domesticity and the eternal problem of finding affordable accommodation in London.

So much wider than a biography, moreover a graphic journey through Victorian London, Paris and Manchester. For all who have an interest in nineteenth century social reform, this account of a family that immediately endear themselves to the reader as ‘The Tussies’ is to be highly recommended.

_______________________________________________

Eleanor Marx: A Life (525pp) by Rachel Holmes, 2014, is published by Bloomsbury with a cover price of £25, but is available for less.

 

Review: Lady Bette and the Murder of Mister Thynn by N.A. Pickford.

lady bette and the murder of my thynnIn an age when women – no matter how high born – had few rights, wealthy heiresses found themselves sometimes to be both bargaining counters of their guardians and targets for kidnappers after rich pickings. Lady Bette was one such, but so much more than that: she was a Percy and the heiress to the Northumberland estates: the very top echelon of the English aristocracy. Think Syon House in Brentford and Alnwick Castle in Northumberland, both still with us. Add to this the magnificent Northumberland House near Charing Cross – lost to the railways and urban expansion of the late 19C; and Petworth House and it’s clear that in the late Seventeenth Century, the Percys of Northumberland were an ancient and noble family of the first rank. They still are today.

So when Bette’s father, the 11 Duke of Northumberland died in 1670 when she was just three, and her elder brother himself having died two years previously, little Bette became the heiress to vast estates. She instantly became a pawn in a marriage game played by two deadly rivals: her mother and her grandmother, the formidable Dowager Lady Howard.

Having already lost her childhood husband from her initial arranged marriage (they appeared to be a fondly devoted young couple), Bette – still in her early teens – was fixed up with Thomas Thynn, an unpleasant character who rubbed shoulders with the emerging Whig faction surrounding the Duke of Monmouth – desperate chancers as history would later prove.

These years of scheming and intrigue – skillfully woven by the author in the narrative – culminate in the event of the title: a drive-by assassination of Thynn in his coach at the cross-roads of Pall Mall and Haymarket. The killers were a group of down-at-heel desperadoes in the pay of the mysterious Count Konigsmark and his right hand man, Christopher Vratz, fortune hunters and mercenaries to a man.

London at this time was a haven for resting military types from the Continent, common soldiers now impoverished habitues of the capital’s less salubrious inns and ale houses. They were easy recruits for this mission.

Apart from Bette herself, no one comes out of this story with any credit. Honour there is none. Everybody, high and low alike, is on the make. My favourite – and likely yours will be too – is Ralph Montagu, sometime ambassador to Paris and step-father of Bette, whose strategic womanising and scheming are utterly shameless, leading ultimately to his disgrace at Court. A morality tale within a tale.

N.A. Pickford weaves complex threads together with great skill and tells this amazing story with panache and style. His research is clearly both deep and wide-ranging  and he manages his sources masterfully. Any history lover will enjoy this pacy true story, but if you’re particularly into the scheming, the intrigues, the power-broking of the Restoration elite, you will adore this book.

____________________________________________

 

The footnotes, references and index are excellent: all you would want.

Lady Bette and the Murder of Mister Thynn (309pp) is published by Weidenfeld & Nicholson with a cover price of £20 although it is available for less.

 

trinity house

Trinitas in Unitate.

Many happy returns to Trinity House which was granted its Royal Charter this day in 1514 by Henry VIII, early in his reign when he was yet young, handsome and worthy.  Trinity House is the charity which takes care of all of our lighthouses and coastal buoys, ensuring the safety of thousands of mariners down the ages.

As with many ancient organisations, Trinity House has a religious foundation and a wonderfully convoluted name: The Master, Wardens, and Assistants of the Guild, Fraternity, or Brotherhood of the most glorious and undivided Trinity, and of St. Clement in the Parish of Deptford-Strond in the County of Kent. Deptford, of course, was in times gone by London’s major centre of ship building and maritime marine. The initial function, according to the Charter, was “so that they might regulate the pilotage of ships in the King’s streams”.

As a fraternity, the top of the organisation comprises 31 Elder Brethren, led by a Master. Today’s Master is HRH The Princess Royal, the latest in a long line of senior royals who have held the position. Former non-Royal Masters have included Samuel Pepys (as you’d expect), The Duke of Wellington and William Pitt the Younger.

The Trinity House HQ is in Trinity Square, overlooking the Tower of London and the Tower Hill Memorial which commemorates all merchant seamen and fishermen lost in the two world wars. All Hallows by the Tower, which also remembers seafarers, is close by. The late-Georgian building by Samuel Wyatt dates from 1796. It has a magnificent staircase, beautifully-appointed rooms and is festooned with portraits, ships models, silverware and other seafaring objects.

Trinity House

Trinity House, London

Trinity House, London

Trinity House, London

Trinity House, London

Trinity House, London

Last Saturday as part of the 500th anniversary celebrations, Trinity House was open to the public, a rare occurrence. These photos are from our visit, all by LH Member Fiona Pretorius. It will next be accessible one day on Open House weekend this September and booking will be necessary, so look out for that.

 

Further Reading.

Our Trinity House photos on Flickr.
Trinity House History.
Trinity House History Blog.
Trinity House home page.
Trinity House FAQs.
Trinity House on Wikipedia.

This museum was re-opened in March after a substantial revamp. Last Friday we were privileged to have a private tour led by curator Jennifer Adam. The whole business was fascinating with a massive array of artifacts to Mammon. We only had an hour before the doors were opened to the public, so I’ll definitely go back for a more substantial look, I’d suggest it needs a good several hours. Here’s a piece of trivia. When the currency was decimalised in 1971, the ten bob note was to be continued as a 50p note, but the idea was scotched at the last minute. And whose head was going to appear on it? Sir Walter Raleigh.

bank of england museum

One of our group, LH Member Chris West, writes:
Our visit to the Bank of England Museum on Friday was fascinating. We were straight away talking about the beautiful floor mosaics and then Jenifer Adam introduced herself to us as our host – we saw the structure of the building in model form, which showed the complexity of the various extensions and the way expense was not spared to reflect the national importance of this world famous financial hub. We were expertly shepherded from room to room, seeing beautifully presented displays from early history, displays from the vaults (no you are not allowed to view the gold down below), a clever hands on ‘ship’ designed to involve youngsters, bank notes ancient to modern (we all remembered the ten shilling note) and a sprinkle of the famous people who just popped in to exchange their money, including Handel! It’s always a delight to listen to such a passionately interested, devoted expert, and Jennifer Adam  did us proud- so much to see (I nearly forgot that we were all able to pick up the gold bar, which today was worth £360000+ (but you wouldn’t get far with it- it’s encased except for room to slide your hand in) so I’ll have to go back again as soon as I can.

bank of england museum

Charters from the 17C establishing not only the Bank, but the National Debt.

bank of england museum

Lottery tickets, early bank notes and a book listing customer authorities.

old lady of threadneedle street gilray

The Old Lady of Threadneedle Street, first coined by the cartoonist James Gillray in 1797. The bank being ravished by William Pitt the Younger.

bank of england museum

Where you have Gillray you must have Cruickshank. Satirical banknote, protesting the hundreds of executions of forgers.

Pitt the Younger. There is much statuary throughout the bank and the museum, notably of William III who was on the throne when the bank was founded in 1694.

Pitt the Younger. There is much statuary throughout the bank and the museum, notably of William III who was on the throne when the bank was founded in 1694.

The Bank of England Museum is open from 10 am to 5 pm Monday to Friday. Entrance is free.

London Historians frequently organises behind the scenes group visits which are mostly for Members only.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 582 other followers