The Bank of England Museum – our top 10

Make sure you take time to spot our top 10 must-see highlights.

1. The Bank of England is home to a famous London ghost story, that of the Lady in Black, Sarah Whitehead. In 1812 Philip Whitehead, a clerk at the bank, was found guilty of forgery and hanged. His sister, Sarah, refused to accept his death, and turned up at the bank every day dressed in funeral attire to ask staff where her brother was. It’s said she can be seen there still, on Threadneedle Street or by Bank station, always asking the same sorrowful question: “Have you seen my brother?”

2. The nickname given to the Bank of England, The Old Lady of Threadneedle Street, was first used in James Gillray’s cartoon of 1797, which is on display at the museum.

3. Browsing through the museum’s rooms, you will come across a pair of figures who often make visitors jump when they start one of their arguments. William Pitt the Younger and his arch opponent and lifelong political rival, Charles James Fox re-enact part of a 1797 House of Commons debate every day.

© Bank of England
The Old Lady of Threadneedle Street © Bank of England

4. The banknote gallery displays part of the world’s finest collection of Bank of England notes and traces their development from the handwritten receipts of the late 17th century to today’s technologically sophisticated notes produced at a factory in Essex. The museum also tells how forging was a capital offence up until 1832, and explains how you can check your banknotes for forgeries today.

5. The Bank of England issues special notes with denominations of one million pounds (‘Giants’) and one hundred million pounds (‘Titans’) for internal use. The Bank will exchange any of their notes at face value, even those long out of circulation.

6. A display celebrating the career of The Wind in the Willows’ author, Kenneth Grahame, who worked at the Bank for 30 years, shows previously unseen and unpublished documents illuminating the non-literary career of the writer.

7. A heavily-protected case containing a 13-kilogram (400 Troy ounces) bar of solid gold is on display. See if you can pick it up with one hand (it’s not easily done!)

8. The Bank was one of the first employers of women, beginning during WWI when one of its main functions was to manage the government’s borrowing. During the Blitz of WWII it had a narrow escape when a bomb fell mere metres from the building – photographs in the museum show the huge crater the bomb created.

9. The Bank is separate from the Royal Mint but the museum includes a representative selection of the regal coinage issued from 1694, the year of the Bank’s foundation, and comprehensively covers the Bank’s late 18th- and early 19th-century issues of Bank of England dollars and tokens.

10. In about 1836 the directors of the Bank are said to have received an anonymous letter stating that the writer had access to their gold bullion. They ignored the letter so he wrote again, offering to meet them in the bullion vault at any hour they chose. At the appointed hour a noise was heard from beneath the floor and the mysterious correspondent suddenly appeared. Apparently he was a sewer worker who, during repairs, had discovered an old drain that ran immediately under the bullion vault. He might have carried away enormous sums but, after a thorough check, it was decided nothing had been removed. The Bank is said to have rewarded him with £800 for his honesty (less than the worth of even one gold bar).

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