Resurrecting the Bank of England by Andrew Milburn

By November 7, 20162016


I’ve been working on a phasing model of the Bank of England from the early 1700s when the bank was still in rented accommodation to the 1930s when the whole site was rebuilt to a design by Herbert Baker.

bank-of-england-1The first purpose-made building was a double-courtyard block designed by George Sampson. As you can see, it was jammed into a tightly packed and somewhat irregular mass of existing buildings: houses, businesses, taverns, a church … quite a sober, formal design as befits a banking business eager to establish itself. The front courtyard, entered through triple arches was a circulation space for the general public and forecourt to the Pay Hall, one large room where business was done. The second court housed all the back office functions, from meeting rooms to clerk’s offices, filing rooms to vaults. Bullion came and went from here via a side lane.

Business thrived and the Bank grew in confidence. They bought out all the properties to the east of the main block, and south of the bullion lane. The leading architect of the day was appointed to build and extension in a grand manner.

Soon after more property was acquired at the back which allowed the governors to move their executive offices and meeting rooms to a quieter location in a new “Court Suite” overlooking the churchyard.

Taylor’s third and final contribution was to add more banking halls to the West. The church was knocked down, but they were not allowed to build over the graveyard, so this remained as a “Garden Court”.

When Taylor died, John Soane was appointed. He spent his first two or three years getting to know the existing buildings and making minor alterations and additions mostly around the back. Taylor’s earliest work had been somewhat hastily built, more bluster than substance perhaps. There were four “transfer halls” around a central rotunda. Soane obtained approval to rebuild these one-by-one within their existing footprints.

bank-of-englandHe completed the first two, as well as refurbishing the Rotunda, when other priorities arose. Soane was asked to negotiate purchase of all the remaining properties in the block so that the Bank could occupy an isolated, island site. The result was his North-East extension including Lothbury Court and a new Bullion Gate. It also gave him his first opportunity to design a substantial piece of street frontage.

He chose a rather more sober style than Taylor, partly because it was a back entrance, but partly because he thought it was more appropriate to the seriousness and privacy of the bank’s business

Soane was always very thorough and painstaking in his design work, typically working through four or five schemes before settling down on a solution. In this case he had a strong central element and subtly curved corner features that disguised the difference in angles.

But no sooner had he built this wall than the Bank instructed him to purchase more land and design a North West extension, spoiling his carefully formed symmetry. He drew up a scheme that followed the slight bend in the road and had space for a grand temple front at this turning point, but settled in the end for a straight boundary, with a modest central feature. This allowed him to place his main emphasis at the dramatic sharp corner where the newly straightened Princes Street would meet Lothbury. This became Tivoli Corner.