Underground Vaults, Gold Bars, and A Secret Entrance: The Unlikely History of the Bank of England
Today, the Bank of England may have offices in a modern, glass building in Leeds, but its main site still cuts an imposing, columned figure on Threadneedle Street in the City of London. Once upon a time, the bank is said to have been a magnificent neoclassical structure from the imagination of architect John Soane. Unfortunately, very little of his work survives, as the bank was rebuilt in the 1930’s by Sir Herbert Baker. At over 320 years old, the building is steeped in history, and some of its tales are strange indeed.
Originally housed in Walbrook Street on the site of a Roman temple in 1694, the Bank of England didn’t move to its Threadneedle Street location until the 1730’s. It took another 50 years to begin construction on the Soane building as the bank acquired neighboring property, most notably the church next door after a group of protestors fired missiles into the bank from the tower of the church. In turn, the bank bought it, promising to preserve the churchyard graves in what later became the Garden Court.
The Bank Giant
In 1798, that same Garden was again used as a graveyard, this time for the so-called “Bank Giant.” According to Bloomberg, the man in question was a teller at the Bank of England during his life, and stood at 6 feet, 7.5 inches – over a foot taller than average at the time. The bank agreed to bury him in the secure garden graveyard at the request of his friends and family, who feared his body would be stolen for museum displays or a grotesque circus attraction. His remains were found when Soane began construction half a century later.
Not long after the building was finished, the governors of the bank began receiving anonymous letters from someone claiming to have access to their gold vaults. These vaults, finished only a few years earlier, sit on clay bedrock and are thought to be some of the most secure in the world. One was even used as a bomb shelter at one time. Naturally, the directors were skeptical and at first ignored the writer’s request to meet them in the vault at an hour of their choosing. Eventually persuaded, however, they finally met in the vault after hours and with a shifting of floorboards, out popped a sewer worker who had found the entrance during repairs. According to the bank’s website, the worker hadn’t taken anything, and was rewarded £800 for his honesty.
Another oddity in the bank’s history is the the haunting of the “Black Nun,” or the Lady in Black, the sister of a former bank employee who had been hanged for forgery. The woman, who had found out about the hanging from the bank and never saw her brother’s body, returned daily in full mourning black until she was finally paid to stay away. According to the legend, her ghost still searches the vaults and corridors of Threadneedle Street, looking for her brother.