325 years, 325 objects, The Bank of England Museum, July 2019

Currently closed due to Covid-19. 25th July 2020

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The Bank of England was founded in 1694.

Imagine trying to choose one object for every year of your life. Some years might be easy but others might be more of a struggle, what signifies a year gone by? What are the milestones in your life? Well this is exactly what the Bank of England Museum has done, chosen 325 objects that commemorate and represent the 325 years since the Bank of England was founded.

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Would you keep this? Boundary marker for the parish of St Christopher le Stocks, absorbed into the Bank site in 1788.

A mammoth task when you think about it, obviously you go with chronology but what if you haven’t anything from 1694? I find this exhibition fascinating because it makes you think about what museums collect and preserve and why. The Bank of England Museum was actually only formed in 1988 so you are relying on a lot of material and history being kept. What gets kept, what gets thrown away, what has historical interest? What objects tell a story of your institution?

Yes, there are banknotes and there are coins but there is also a dazzling, eclectic array of objects that guarantee you are bound to find something of interest.

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Jug, 1300s, found during the rebuilding of the Bank of England.

The history of the Bank of England site before it even became the Bank of England is fascinating. Dig down anywhere in the City and you are bound to come up with some exciting archaeology. I loved the medieval jug from the 1300s excavated during the rebuilding of the Bank during the 1920s and 30s. There were actually over 400 roman and medieval artefacts found during that time and there is a lovely circularity to the roman writing stylus and the relatively modern steel nibs used to hand sign the original bank notes.

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Hollow bricks from the Bank of England rotunda, c.1795. These bricks were salvaged when Sir John Soane’s rotunda was demolished in the 1920s.

There is architecture and design introduced with some beautiful 1930s tiles made by Malkin Tile Works in Staffordshire and the remarkable round fire bricks used in the construction of Sir John Soane’s rotunda that were salvaged when it was demolished in the 1920s. Who thought to keep these I wonder? I love them for doing it and giving us a chance to think about the construction of our grand buildings.

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Brook Watson, Deputy Governor 1806-7, lost his right leg in a shark attack in Havana aged 14. By Robert Dighton.

There is some fascinating social history on show too, tackling the difficult history of bank officials who found their influence and wealth through the slave trade, the introduction of women workers and the curious story of Brook Watson, deputy governor from 1806-7 who lost his right leg in a shark attack in Havana Harbour aged 14.

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Barclaycard from 1988 and Switch debit card from Midland Bank, 1991.

The exhibition brings it right up to date but not without a little 80s nostalgia for a time when our ‘flexible friend’ was never far away. Many will remember the design of the Visa Barclaycard from 1988 and the 1991 Switch debit card from Midland Bank.

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‘Titan’ one hundred million pound note. Used for internal accounting at the Bank, including as backing for other UK banknote issues, 2018.

If you are traditionalist and fancy a few banknotes then there is plenty on offer. The amazing Titan banknote worth a mind boggling 100 million pounds, a 2018 banknote  curiously looks not so very different from those early hand written notes.

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Bank Restriction Note, George Cruikshank, 1819. At this time forgery of Bank of England notes was punishable by death. Between 1797 and 1821 more than 300 people were hand for counterfeiting.

One to stick in the mind is the note produced by George Cruikshank in 1819 as a protest against the harsh punishments for forgers and counterfeiters. A sobering 300 people were hanged for counterfeiting between 1797 and 1821. Whilst so much has changed in terms of technology, that very human failing of wanting to make a bit of money on the side has never gone away.

If none of the above 324 odd objects floats your boat then what about the beautiful paper sculpture commissioned by the museum from artist Justine Smith. Flowers, delicate and beautiful, and every one of them made from genuine £50 notes that were marked for destruction.

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Do you think I can put this one back together?

Money makes the world go round and the Bank of England Museum brings you the world of money in 325 surprising and fascinating objects and it won’t cost you a penny from your pocket or a swipe of your contactless payment device to visit.

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Getting hands on and tactile with Britannia.

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‘325 years, 325 objects’ is on at the Bank of England Museum from 22nd July 2019 – 15th June 2020. The museum is free to visit for opening times please see the website – https://www.bankofengland.co.uk/museum

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