Did you know that you can visit the Bank Of England for free? Did you know you can try to lift a real gold ingot?
That’s what we did as the Bank has a museum just behind it.
Two factors had led to the successful establishment of a national bank, firstly the stability of having William and Mary come to the throne in 1688 and money being spent on a war with France that started in the same year. Louis XIV had kept trying to expand his territories eastward but was blocked by the united provinces of the Netherlands and the Austrians. King William’s annual expenditure totalled £2 million, but he was needing to spend £2 and a half million each year on the army alone.The war lasted 9 years. To finance the war the bank ran a lottery with prizes.
During the 18th century the bank became a bank for the government to manage the national debt. Again money was needed for wars when Louis XIV proclaimed his grandson as King of Spain and invaded the Spanish Netherlands. The Duke of Marlborough (John Churchill) won the Battle of Blenheim (among others) and Queen Anne awarded him a palace.
The bank also managed the £850 million necessary to defeat Napoleon. Leading up to the battle of Waterloo in 1815. No wonder there is a statue to the Duke of Wellington outside the bank.
Up until then paper money could be exchanged for its equivalent in gold coins. I didn’t know that revolutionary France had declared war on Britain in 1797. A small force landed at Fishguard. A panic ensued and everyone wanted their gold. The bank’s gold reserves diminished from £16 million to £2 million. Prime Minister William Pitt ordered a temporary stop on cash payments that actually lasted for 24 years.
The First World war increased the national debt to £7 billion and we were spending £5 million pounds a day. The bank launched a 5% war loan and £2 billion was raised in just one month in January 1917.
How prosperous our countries might have been if it had not been for all these wars?
I was able to lift a gold bar (firmly enclosed in casing) and won a pen by being able to crack a safe – with Graham’s help!