England has a new plastic banknote, paper and cotton have been the order of the day until now. Where better to mark the occasion than a visit to the Bank of England Museum with its brand new Banknote gallery. Just don’t try to visit at the weekend because its shut, strictly City opening hours here; Nine to five, Monday to Friday. Tucked away in a side street off Threadneedle Street entering the museum feels like sneaking into the Bank via the back door.
To mark the advent of plastic notes the museum has a new gallery devoted to the history of banknotes. Turns out that they are relatively modern, you need a network of banks in order for banknotes to work. Early ones just look as if someone has written on a random piece of paper but the ‘Promise to pay’ has appeared on the notes since 1694. Turns out that even in the early days security features were important. Marbling on the edge of the paper and watermarks embedded within the paper for the earliest notes. Fast forward to the new fiver, which has a see through patch complete with a portrait of the Queen in addition to the more familiar metallic strips, complicated swirling and raised printing. Seeing the engraved plates used to print notes makes you realise what a highly skilled job making or forging notes it!
Printing banknotes is not all that the Bank of England does. The Governor and his staff are responsible for keeping the economy on an even keel. The Bank is required to keep inflation at a steady rate, you can try your hand at doing this with a series of excellent interactive exhibitions. Economy a bit sluggish? Try some quantitative easing! Economics made easy, all very child friendly.
Did you know that a fifth of the world’s gold is kept in the vaults beneath the Bank of England. The value of the stash fluctuates but its round about £170 billion. That’s all beneath your feet! Access to the vaults is not allowed. What there is though is a gold bar that you can lift up and it is surprisingly heavy. You can also take a virtual selfie in the vaults in a room cleverly rigged up to look like the vault. Note to self: improve selfie technique.
Visiting the Bank of England museum with children will need to be confined to holidays and inset days but is well worth making time for. The new fact that I came away with? The Bank is not the work of John Soane as I had always thought, his building was knocked down in the last century, all that survives is his windowless wall that surrounds the site.
BANK OF ENGLAND MUSEUM
Entrance on Bartholomew Lane, EC2R 8AH
Open: Monday – Friday 9am-5pm (closed weekends and bank holidays)