I was lucky enough to be able to join the CILIP Government Information Group visit to the Bank of England library and archive during a trip to London in November. The first thing that you notice when visiting the Bank of England, aside from the stringent security on entering the building, is the exquisite tiled floor in the entrance hall. This was recently renovated as ladies’ high heels were found to be damaging the tiles, and it’s very striking when you enter. The building was purpose-built as the Bank but the interior was rebuilt in the 1920s to create more space as the institution grew; it now reaches so deep underground you can feel vibrations from the tube every few minutes.
The library is open 24 hours a day for Bank staff, and is staffed during office hours. The collection has been weeded recently as much of it had become out of date, but the library holds a complete run of The Economist dating back to the 1850s. Most other journals are kept for about 5 years. We viewed some of the special collection highlights, including books on forgery, engravings, the story of the Bank nun (so-called because she kept returning to the bank after her brother, a former employee, was hanged for forgery, and is said to haunt the area), a collection of newspaper clippings relating to the banking crisis of 1857, and economic reports from the Reichsbank detailing the state of the German economy immediately after the Second World War. To me one of the most interesting items of those on display was a photographic record of the Bank’s architecture, the preface of which is critical of the rebuild. Further editions of this book had the harsh preface removed.
The oldest item in the Bank archive relates to the address in Threadneedle Street rather than the Bank itself, and dates from 1516. We had the opportunity to view the Royal Charter which founded the Bank in 1694 to provide stability and raise much needed funds to build a navy following a massive defeat by France. The archive preserves documents relating to the running of the Bank and staff matters, and has a fascinating collection of photos from the Bank’s amateur dramatic and operatic societies. These societies were well reviewed, and the Bank still collects material relating to current societies. Some of the archive documents we heard about give insights into the personal circumstances of Bank customers – for example JMW Turner bought his first stocks at the age of 18, and Charles Dickens lived hand-to-mouth as his many children and the work he did on social reform left him with little to inves. Unlike the library, the archive is open to the public as well as Bank staff, and the archivists receive hundreds of enquiries – many related to family history and economic history.
Many thanks to the library and archive staff for showing us your work, and also to GIG in London for letting an out-of-towner join in.
Rosie Fyfe MCLIP
Acquisitions Librarian, National Library of Scotland