A Steady and Unremitting Attention

The physical Bank of 1793, whether as a building or as a working environment, was very different to what it had been in its original Threadneedle Street incarnation almost sixty years earlier. In large part this reflected the institution’s growing workload and accompanying rise – steady if not yet spectacular – in staff numbers:1









The changing physical character of the Bank, though, was not just down to size of staff. It was also determined by two remarkable architects, Robert Taylor and John Soane.

First, however, there was George Sampson’s Bank, a relatively modest affair surrounded by two churches, three taverns and as many as twenty private houses. ‘The frontage of the new premises was not more than 80 feet,’ notes Marston Acres, ‘extending from St. Christopher’s Church on the west to the Crown Tavern on the east, and the depth of the site cannot have exceeded 300 feet in the direction of Lothbury. The only outside windows were above the main entrance in Threadneedle Street, and at the west end of the Hall overlooking the churchyard of St. Christopher.’ Inside the building, features included a nod to the Bank’s origins, in the form of a life-size white marble statue of King William III erected on 1 January 1735, and the imposing Pay Hall – crowded six days a week by merchants and others converting coins into banknotes (or vice versa), making deposits or withdrawals, and (less often) collecting dividends, with high, grille-topped counters separating these customers from the tellers and clerks. ‘The primacy of the Pay Hall,’ observes Daniel Abramson about what was by far the largest occupied space in Sampson’s Bank, symbolised ‘the paramount importance the Bank placed on its commercial banking activities.’ There were of course other aspects to the new building, not least the directors’ parlours or meeting rooms (‘sumptuously appointed,’ Abramson notes, ‘with fine wood panelling and marble chimney-pieces’) and the Accountant’s Office, the heart of the book-keeping back office and deliberately kept apart from the areas of public access. ‘On the level of spatial planning Sampson’s Bank of England helped instrument the Bank’s trustworthiness,’ reflects Abramson. ‘At the level of architectural style the building also represented virtue. A classically planned and proportioned building like the Bank of England possessed a powerful authority.’2

By the time that Robert Taylor succeeded Sampson as the Bank’s architect in 1764, the need for physical expansion was manifest, even after a certain amount of new building in the late 1740s. Taylor himself in an earlier life had been a sculptor, including creating the figure of Britannia for the Pay Hall, but during the 1750s he had taken off as an architect, specialising in villas and townhouses for the City’s wealthiest. ‘Skillful industry, dauntless self-denial, oeconomy of money and time’ would be the defining characteristics recalled at his death, and in addition to his intellectual and cultural sophistication (including strong Continental influences) he was renowned for his relentlessly detailed quality control over his subordinates. As the Bank’s architect, he designed and saw through a major programme of expansion, mainly between the mid-1760s and the mid-1770s. Taylor’s programme, much of it simultaneously executed, had four main components. On the other side of Threadneedle Street, in front of the main entrance to the Royal Exchange, he erected on the triangular site two four-storey blocks, the Bank Buildings, whose offices were used by other businesses and which was in effect a pioneering speculative development on the Bank’s part; to the north, beyond the Accountant’s Office, he built a four-storey Library, mainly for the purpose of records storage; to the north-west, close to the Pay Hall, he constructed an elegant suite of new rooms for the directors, of which the centrepiece was the Court Room, handsomely decorated and thrice the size of the previous Court Room; above all, on the eastern side of the existing premises, he built a whole new wing that almost doubled the Bank’s overall size and comprised not only the great circular Rotunda for dealings in government stock, but also four spacious and identical new Transfer Offices (including two devoted to 3 Per Cent Consols). Taylor’s was, by any standards, a prodigious achievement. And when the French finance minister Calonne, well known as a patron of the arts, visited these additions to the Bank, he pronounced them to be ‘the first architecture of London’, with the only exception being Wren’s St Paul’s.3

Taylor, knighted in 1783, would remain the Bank’s architect until his death in 1788. The start of the 1780s saw of course the Gordon Riots, a profound shock to the Bank authorities; and in the aftermath of the violent disturbances, they came to the conclusion that the tower of the thirteenth-century church of St Christopher-le-Stocks, situated on Threadneedle Street immediately to the west of the Bank, might well be all too tempting a vantage point for a future mob to storm the Bank from. Accordingly, amid perhaps surprisingly little controversy, the Bank purchased the church in 1781 for the sum of £4,462 4s and then, between 1782 and 1784, had it knocked down and replaced by a new group of buildings – the Bank’s own west wing – reaching as far as the corner of Princes Street. New offices in this wing, with Taylor again to the fore until his death, included the Dividend Warrant Office and the Reduced Annuities Office; but on the site of St Christopher’s burial ground, which the Bank had pledged not to build over, was instead now the Garden Court, under which bodies for a time continued to be buried. Tree lined, and not unspacious, it broke ‘the formality of architectural lines’, observed Thomas Malton in his 1792 Picturesque Tour of the City, adding that the garden provided ‘unexpected pleasure in this busy commercial scene’.

The west wing may not have been Taylor at his best, striking as it did, in Abramson’s disappointed words, ‘a dissonant note with its boxy, disconnected aggregate of parts’. Yet, taking his near quarter-century as a whole, he had played an integral part in (Abramson again) ‘the fundamental institutional and architectural transformation of the Bank of England into a large-scale, public, monumental workplace’. A year before his death, a correspondent of the Gentleman’s Magazine could only express wonder at ‘the amazing rapidity’ of the institution’s ‘modern expansion and extended accommodation to the moneyed interest and commercial world’; five years before that, in 1782, an implicit sense of its daily public importance comes through in The Bank of England’s Vade Mecum: or Sure Guide, a small book written by ‘A Gentleman of the Bank, &c’. Its purpose was made clear on the title page (so that ‘the greatest Strangers to the Bank, may with Certainty and Propriety do all they want, without being obliged to ask any Questions of any Persons whatever’); two helpful copperplate plans showing the Bank’s layout were included; and the main focus was on ‘the hall department’, that is the Pay Hall, described as ‘particularly’ the part of the Bank ‘found to be not sufficiently understood’, but which was ‘certainly the principal Place, where all Money Matters, Notes, Bills, Drafts, &c are transacted’. Most of the treatise was a helpful, matter-of-fact guide to conducting business in the Bank. For example:

If you want Bank Notes for Cash, pay your Money to any one of the Tellers, at their Tables, marked (3) in the Plan and tell him what Note or Notes, you want for it; he then gives you a Ticket, which you present through the little Rails to one of the Clerks, who sit under the Letter A on the Right Hand Side of the Dial, and they will accommodate you. But if you want a Parcel of Notes, take a Slip of Paper, which you will generally find ready, at the Desk marked (1), and write down what you want, and take it to Letter A with the Ticket … Then the Clerks at Letter A will accordingly make out your Notes, which you must be particularly careful to get signed by one of the Cashiers, who sit under the Dial (as before mentioned), before you take them away, and this must always be done with every new Note you receive.

Addenda indicated ‘where to apply to the Gentlemen Stock-brokers, to have Business of that Sort transacted, or where to receive their different Dividends’, in other words in Taylor’s eastern wing (‘As soon as you enter the Court-yard of the Bank, from Thread-needle-Street, – you will to the Right Hand see a Door, ascended to by four Stone Steps, with the Words transfer offices wrote over the Door …’). But the anonymous gentleman of the Bank reserved his greatest weight for his ‘General Remarks’:

Let every one please to observe, that when he has paid his Money to the Tellers, and receives a Ticket for his Money paid in, never to take that Ticket away, but carry it to the Place it is designed for.

The Public are earnestly desired to pay due Attention to the above Remark, as it very frequently happens, that people take these Tickets away, for want of knowing better, and give themselves a great deal of Trouble; for if the Tickets are carried away, the Business they came to do, is left undone.

The self-published treatise, sold by booksellers who included Messrs Richardson and Urquhart at the Royal Exchange, cost 1 shilling, and within a year was running to a second edition.4

Taylor died on 27 September 1788, and only three days later the Committee of Treasury noted that eleven people ‘were offered for his place of Architect’. On 15 October the Committee of Building reached its ‘unanimous’ choice: John Soane. Aged thirty-five, and youngest of seven children of a journeyman-bricklayer, he had trained under George Dance (architect of the Mansion House) and over the previous ten years had been involved in the post-Riots rebuilding of Newgate Prison, had started to become known for his country-house designs, had married the niece of a wealthy builder, and – perhaps most significant of all – had become friendly with one of the Bank’s most influential directors, Samuel Bosanquet.5 It was a bold but inspired choice. ‘The underlying dynamic of Soane’s career,’ considers Abramson, ‘involved his attempts to conjoin the two divergent strands of his early education, one favouring conventional classicism and the other poetic picturesqueness. The force of Soane’s best designs derived from his unwillingness to allow one tendency to triumph over the other.’ The new man soon got to work across a range of projects – as early as December 1788 successfully laying before the Committee of Building ‘a plan for taking off part of the Room designed for the Cheque Office, to be converted into a safe place for depositing the Transfer Books of the £3 p Cent. Reduced Office’ – but undoubtedly his crucial early achievement, calling on some assistance from Dance, was the Bank Stock Office, situated just to the north of the Bartholomew Lane vestibule and completed in 1793. ‘This was one of Soane’s most remarkable interiors, the prototype of his other banking halls and of many of his other interiors,’ Giles Waterfield would write in 1989 in celebration of its re-creation. ‘Its use of a thin, highly stretched Classical vocabulary, its avoidance of mass, and its ingenious employment of new material epitomise the novelty of the architect’s approach.’ Monumental, austere, Roman: it spoke of a company proudly poised to celebrate its first centenary.6

To be a clerk in the eighteenth-century Bank – possible in the first place only through being the son of a Bank clerk or being nominated by a Bank director – was not on the whole to find oneself on the road to riches. Salaries began at £50 a year, barely enough to live on, though extra work during busy periods, or in connection with the administration of public lotteries, was remunerated, while the pay was reasonable enough for the older clerks. Pensions tended to be on a grace-and-favour basis (though usually granted), and in any case there was no set retirement age; as for holidays, the notion of mandatory annual leave was not yet in place. What the Bank did provide, however, was security of employment and, for the senior clerks anyway, relatively short working hours (often 9 to 3), enabling them to find additional paid work later in the day in City shops or businesses. How hard did they work when they were in Threadneedle Street? ‘I am sorry to find you met with difficultys in setting your last day’s work,’ one clerk, Thomas Ormes, convalescing in Waltham Abbey, wrote in 1762 to another clerk, Thomas Hulley. ‘Indeed I do not wonder at it, as its expected that one person must do the business of two, and I am inclined to think the Fates have doomed us to be slaves to the Bank, our state being very little better. How often have we complained of this our hard lot, and still have the mortification of expecting no relief.’ There is some evidence that Ormes may have been one of life’s grumblers; but the probability is that the policy of deliberate overmanning – so that at times of pressure or crisis there would always be sufficient experienced clerks at hand – had not yet come into play.

Inevitably there were breaches of discipline or cases of unacceptable slackness: a clerk, Edward Stone, discharged in 1736 for habituating a tavern with a gaming table ‘at which he used to play’; another, Thomas Dowdeswell, suspended in 1747 for arriving at the Bank ‘disordered with liquor’; or in 1782 the seven Consols Office clerks who dined too well in Lime Street, failed to return to the Bank, subsequently explained that it had been raining and were lucky to get away with a reprimand. Irregularities, meanwhile, ranged from the relatively mild to the wholly grave, with the latter category including two particularly egregious cases during the middle decades. In May 1741 it was discovered that John Waite, a cashier who had been a ‘servant of the House’ (as the phrase went) for almost twenty years, had absconded with 133 East India Company bonds for £100 each. ‘About five foot eight inches high, well-set, round visaged, small grey eyes, very light eyebrows and eyelashes, and of a most remarkable fresh complexion’ was the description at once posted in the London Gazette, with the Bank’s reward for the successful apprehension of Waite soon raised from £200 to £500. Eventually, a year and a half later, he was arrested in Dublin; and though at the subsequent Old Bailey trial he was acquitted on a legal technicality, his inexorable former employers managed to get him rearrested for a debt of £13,300, leaving him in due course to spend the rest of his days in the Fleet Prison. The other case concerned William Guest. The son of a Worcestershire clergyman, he secured a clerkship in 1763 through the recommendation of the director Peter Du Cane, soon becoming a teller in the Pay Hall. Unfortunately for him, a fellow-teller, John Leach, noticed that, for no apparent good reason, he had the habit of separating recently minted coins from older ones; and it quite soon transpired that Guest had been systematically extracting gold from new guineas and using an ingenious machine of his own invention to make a fresh milled edge on those coins. Reported to the Court of Directors in July 1767 as being in custody ‘on a violent suspicion of diminishing the current coin of the Kingdom’, he was summarily dismissed from the Bank’s service. And three months later, after a trial at the Old Bailey, he met his end at Tyburn – where at the public hanging he was, recorded the London Magazine, ‘dressed in decent mourning with a club wig on’, and ‘his whole deportment was so pious, grave, manly, and solemn, becoming the gentleman and Christian, as to draw tears from the greatest part of the numerous spectators’.7

It would be wrong to dwell overlong on the miscreants, for the probability is that at any one time the overwhelming majority of the Bank’s staff were honest and more or less conscientious. Two men above all showed the way, becoming in turn, through their long service and through their dedication, the very heartbeat of the Bank. The first was Daniel Race, who entered in 1719, became joint chief cashier in 1739, then sole chief cashier in 1759, which he remained until a few months before his death in October 1775 at his house in Clapton. He was buried at St Luke’s, Old Street, where his memorial tablet (written by a Bank director, Thomas Plumer) warmly praised ‘a man of plain appearance’ who was ‘in every respect the man of business, the gentleman, the philosopher, the Christian’. He had, Plumer went on, ‘the clearest ideas and soundest judgement, most unblemished integrity, singular diligence, attention and regularity in every branch of his department: wonderful calmness of temper, affability of manner, unruffled by times or persons; himself always composed, and by his candour composing the most troublesome: remarkably correct, and in a manner faultless himself, yet indulgent to the faults of others, as far as consisted with his own duty …’ Or in the words of one of the lines of verse on an engraving of the portrait of Race commissioned by the directors shortly before his retirement, he had ‘the coolest Reason allied to keenest Wit’. The other exemplar was Abraham Newland. One of twenty-five children of a Southwark miller and baker, he entered the Bank as a seventeen-year-old in 1748, rising to become chief cashier in 1778, and like Race remaining so until shortly before his death, which in his case was in November 1807. In his position, over the course of almost thirty years, he slept every night in the Bank, though after business hours he would sometimes retreat to his semi-rural Highbury cottage to take tea and perhaps play the violin, before returning in the evening to Threadneedle Street. After his death, a journalist would call Newland’s ‘a life less marked by enterprize than by enduring patience and plodding perseverance’, adding that ‘the progress of a horse in a mill is but a faint type of such an existence’; but Newland himself, remembered by intimates as a cheerful companion not averse to a glass with friends, would never for a moment have doubted the high and serious purpose of his unwearying daily round.8

The year of Race’s retirement, 1775, is not an especially notable one in the Bank’s history, but it is the first time we get any real sense of how things looked from the top. Becoming governor that year was Samuel Beachcroft, a merchant whose father Matthews Beachcroft (also a merchant) had been governor in the 1750s. He started a working journal, mercifully legible, and a selection of entries between April and November 1775 speak for themselves about the mixture of diverse concerns that seem to have occupied much of his time:

13 April. Read the petition of Jno Sharp, & Giles Collins for advance of Gratuity – Rejected.

14 April. Appointed Mr Le Gros to serve the Bank with half their coals.

2 May. Reprimanded Mr Smith, partner of Smith Wright & Gray, for misbehaviour of His House by sending bad Silver, & giving other hindrances to our Clerks. He promised in future to alter their method & behave better.

11 May. Agreed with Palmer the upholsterer for a pair Green Moreen Curtains & Pullies to the Bullion Office for £9.

15 June. Reprimanded Mr Tudman for taking a Bank Note that was forged, & cautioned the Out Tellers in regard to the inspection of all Notes in Future.

30 June. Waited on Lord North, who informed the Depy & Myself that the Exchr Bills on the Supplys 1775 £250,000 wou’d be Issued this Year sooner than usual, & desir’d us to take the Sense of our Court upon advancing said sum at 3 p Ct.

12 July. Order’d Mr Newland to acquaint all the Cashiers & other Officers upon receipt of any Stolen Bank Note, forged Note &c immediately to mark them that they may be sworn to upon any necessity.

Reprimanded Mr Vickery for misbehaviour to Mr Thomas Bowen & order’d him to make a proper Apology, & bring a Letter from him to that purpose.

4 August. Mr Pearson and Mr Nowell appeared on behalf of Benj Nowell suspended 2 June last, & said his affairs being involv’d & the Loss of a Wife had brought him to drink, that he had settled all his affairs to pay in three year, that they wou’d continue his Security & pray’d for his being reinstated; Nowell promised to behave well, when I told him wou’d bring it before the Court next Thursday.

7 September. Order’d Mr Taylor to Color one of the Sky Lights by way of trial to prevent the great glare of light on the Books in the Transfer Offices.

14 November. Reprimanded several Officers for being concern’d in Lottery Offices, upon promise of never being concern’d again after this Lottery they were pardon’d, but told on any future offence they must be discharged.

17 November. Order’d Mr Jewson [Charles Jewson, a troubled figure who was briefly chief cashier between Race and Newland] to acquaint the Tellers never to take any Money in Bags by the weight without counting it, & if any person takes money away without telling it to acquaint them it is at their own risk, as we shall not make good any deficiency.

Beachcroft kept his diary going for the rest of the customary two-year term, and a couple of entries for 1776 nicely convey the ‘low’ and the ‘high’, that timeless contrast in Bank life:

21 May. Order’d Mr Jewson to allow the Weighers of the Light Guineas some porter & bread & cheese daily at one oClock, but by no means to suffer any ale house boy to attend.

22 November. The Depy Govr & Myself waited upon Lord North, desiring to be inform’d if any requisitions had been made for money from Lord Howe [in charge of Britain’s North American fleet during the American War of Independence], stating our present situation & if any immediate want to desire some means might be used to prevent it; his Lordship answer’d he shou’d inquire into the matter, believ’d they wou’d not want any till about February, but cou’d not promise, however wou’d do what he cou’d to prevent it.9

Beachcroft’s diary is suggestive, but even more so is the Committee of Inspection that the directors launched in 1783 to inquire into the Bank’s internal workings. The trigger may well have been the Commission for Examining Public Accounts, in the context of the end of the War of American Independence, but it might also have tied in with internal fraud – especially the case of Charles Clutterbuck, a clerk discovered in July 1782 to have been filling in for his own nefarious purposes the blank forms that were used to prepare banknotes.10 Either way, the following spring, amid temporarily unavailing efforts to bring Clutterbuck (who had absconded abroad) to justice, the Court of Directors established a Committee ‘to inspect & enquire into the mode & execution of the Business as now carried on in the different departments of the Bank’.11 It comprised three directors – Samuel Bosanquet (Soane’s future supporter), Thomas Dea, Benjamin Winthrop – and apart from a lengthy summer break (‘as some of the Committee were going out of Town’) met regularly between March 1783 and March 1784, collecting evidence and writing six reports. The senior of the trio, and probable driving force, was Bosanquet, who for his own purposes kept a running aide-memoire touching on some of their findings and deliberations. Early on, he noted three wants: there was ‘a great want of subordination in the Hall throughout’; ‘a proper Check upon the Clerks who post in the Drawing Office to detect any error that may creep in by posting to a wrong account – is much wanted in the Accountant’s Office’; and ‘there wants a check upon the Clerks of the cash book in issuing Bank Notes’. As for some of the individual clerical staff, his judgements were unsparing. Boult: ‘an old Gentleman almost worn out – not very sharp’. Gardner: ‘a poor hand – obstinate & prejudiced to the old mode’. Bridges: ‘a chattering Fellow’. Wilde: ‘great abilities – but drinks & then muddled & lost’. Hutton: ‘capable but won’t be directed’. Fenning: ‘obstinate’. Gandon: ‘a sulky young man’. Occasionally he offered undiluted praise (Fonton: ‘a very good regular clerk’), but more typical was his brusque verdict on Abraham Vickery, head of the 3 Per Cent Consols Office and the object of Beachcroft’s reprimand in 1775: ‘don’t attend as well as he should’ and ‘lives too high’.

Much of the evidence presented to Bosanquet’s Committee was essentially descriptive. Newland, for instance: ‘Whatever Gold is purchased by the Bank & taken in at the Bullion Office is the next day brought to the Chief Cashier’s Office, weighed, the Account examined & the Gold placed in the Warehouse ’till finally deposited in the Vaults.’ Or Cowper, the principal Clerk attending the Exchequer, on ‘the Mode in which they pay away the Bank Notes’: ‘One Clerk has charge of the Notes & another keeps a book in which the number & other particulars of them have been previously entered in numerical order, under the several heads of Tens, Twentys, Fiftys & up to a Thousand; the Clerk who has charge of the Notes looks out such as are demanded, & then calls out to the Clerk who keeps the book their number & Value, who seeing that they agree with the particulars in his book, marks them off, adding the name of the person to whom they are paid.’ Or William Watkins, principal gate-porter, explaining how the fifteen watchmen under his direction ‘assemble at the Bank at 6 o’clock in the evening in the Winter & at 7 in the Summer’, whereupon:

The Watch is immediately set for the night, 5 being allways on duty in the following stations –


Passage looking into the Mid-yard by the Bullion Office.

Back-yard by the Library & passages near it.

Old Church-yard under the Windows of the Great Parlour.

They are relieved every 2 hours, & the 10 not on duty accommodate themselves as to Rest or refreshment in the best manner they can, within the Bank.

Quite often the Committee went to look for itself, for example going twice into the Accountant’s Office, where on the second occasion its members

saw the whole process of entering & posting the Bills & Notes discounted, & the manner of writing off the payments as they become due: The labour being very great occasions its being carried on to a late hour before finished, as the enterers can seldom begin to journalize the Bills ’till near 2 o’clock. Each Bill or Note discounted, being journalized, is afterwards posted in Discount Ledgers to the Account of the person by whom it is payable: At the same time, the Warrants from the Discount Office are journalized in another Journal, & then posted to the Account of the Discounter in the same Ledgers – being the books that are brought in every morning & laid upon the Table in the Parlour.

In order to subtract from the Accounts in these Ledgers the sums that go off daily, the Article book, kept by the Clearers in the Hall, containing an Account of all Bills & Notes discounted sent out every day for payment, is (as soon as done with by the Clearers) brought into the Accountants Office; & all the Bills & Notes sent out that day are collected from it in a book, under the name of each discounter; which is a most laborious operation

Occasionally there were grumbles. John Payne, chief accountant and a friend of Dr Johnson, ‘took occasion to represent that all the Transfer Offices, through their not having any chimnies or other apertures for the admission of fresh Air, are so unwholesome as greatly to prejudice the health of the Persons employed in them’; Walton, a supervisor in the 3 Per Cent Reduced Office, drew attention to ‘the confined State of the Office, so inadequate to the business carried on in it that the Clerks are obliged to put the Books upon one another, there not being space sufficient in the Office to lay them separately’; and Padman of the Library complained that it was ‘very cold & damp’, that ‘there will very soon be no convenient room for an addition of more books’, and that ‘there is a vast number of files of money tickets & other apparently useless papers’. Next day the Committee inspected the Library, where having ‘examined the State of the Books in each Story, which they found by no means to be in a perishing condition, but the paper very dry’, they ‘took notice that the Windows were all shut close, although it was a fine day …’

Bosanquet and his colleagues had much on their collective mind during a year of pretty intensive work, with perhaps three aspects in particular being at or near the top of their agenda: banknotes; gratuities; and clerks acting as stockbrokers.

Banknotes had been at the heart of the recent Clutterbuck scandal, and one of the Committee’s earliest steps was to call in a cashier, the ‘almost worn out’ Boult, and elicit his opinion ‘on the practicability of a plan, which they had thought of, of accommodating the Public with Bank Notes ready made out’, by which means ‘the business of issuing Bank Notes in the Hall would be transacted with a much greater degree of security as well as facility than at present’. Sadly, ‘Mr Boult did not seem clearly to comprehend how such a plan was to be executed.’ Next day, the Committee tried out their scheme on another experienced cashier, the ‘obstinate’ Gardner; he ‘at first made some objections’, but ‘did not state any one which seemed well founded; his objections arising principally from the apprehension of having so considerable a Charge committed to his care’. By happy contrast, the Committee gained support from the official who really mattered, the chief cashier, with Newland a few weeks later reiterating his view that ‘the Scheme was a very good one, very practicable, & in his opinion not liable to any objections’. Accordingly, the Committee successfully recommended the use of ‘ready-made’ notes, while at the same time strongly urging that all notes should be printed within the Bank, which duly became the case from 1791.

As for gratuities, these seem to have been common in most departments. Etheridge of the Bullion Office, for example, explained that in most years they varied between £40 and £130, adding that ‘the money so received is divided, three quarters between the two Chiefs equally, the remainder to the Junior’; while in some departments they could total as much as several hundred pounds a year. Payne for his part took the high moral ground – ‘he has allways refused them, conceding it totally inconsistent with his Station to accept of any, as it is undoubtedly his duty to do the business of the Publick with the Bank, without receiving any emolument from them for so doing’ – but cumulatively it was clear that tips from customers were generally welcome. And the Committee plausibly concluded not only that these gratuities led to ‘dissatisfaction & heart-burnings amongst the Clerks themselves, from the unequal distributions in some of the Offices’, but also, ‘what is a matter of much more serious consequence’, a disturbing pattern in staff behaviour of ‘partialities & unjust preferences, towards the Publick’, in other words a natural favouring of those customers who were the big tippers.

The question of clerks in the Transfer Offices doubling up as stockbrokers in the nearby Rotunda (or Brokers’ Exchange) had been a thorny one since the early 1770s, when the practice was explicitly forbidden but seemingly continued nevertheless. The Committee of Inspection was determined to get at the existing truth of the matter. Robert Browning, an irascible Dorsetshire man who was second in charge at the Bank Stock Office and the poet’s grandfather, stoutly denied that any of the clerks in his office ‘act as Brokers in their own persons’, but did accept that they ‘buy & sell Stock for their friends through the means of a Broker who generally allows them ⅔ds, & sometimes a larger proportion, of the Commission’; Bibbins of the same office stated that the clerks employed brokers to buy or sell stock for their friends, explaining that ‘most of them are upon such good terms with the Brokers that they rarely, if ever, charge them any brokerage’; while Turner, head of the 3 Per Cent Reduced Office, conceded of his clerks that ‘some of them do act as Brokers & may be likewise concerned in Jobbing’. The next key witness was that high liver Abraham Vickery. ‘Common rumour says Mr Vickery & Mr Salmon [a Stock Exchange broker] are partners – that Vickery makes out many of the Tickets himself – that there is a little boy of Salmons who is always stationed in front of Vickery’s Seat, & carries about his Tickets,’ privately noted Bosanquet, adding that ‘he acts improperly & over rough with the Clerks’. Certainly Vickery was rough enough when on New Year’s Eve 1783 he gave evidence, pronouncing that he had ‘informed all the Clerks under him that, when called before the Committee, he should openly & candidly declare all he knew concerning their conduct’ – a threat he proceeded to fulfil, telling the Committee that, in terms of his clerks acting as brokers, ‘he believes several of them do to no inconsiderable amount’. As for himself, however, he was adamant, baldly stating that he was ‘in no ways concerned in partnership with Mr Salmon or any other Broker’, and denying that he had ever acted as a broker or a jobber himself. So it continued into 1784. ‘He does not act as a Broker, but takes care to be always at his book & never goes into the Market, nor does he job,’ declared Francis Fonton of his own impeccable behaviour in the 3 Per Cent Consols Office; his colleague Poppleton ‘acknowledg’d that he acts as a Broker, but said he does not often go into the Market’, promising that he would not do so in future; and several clerks from the 4 Per Cent Consols Office admitted that they sometimes acted as brokers, though usually in ‘a very trifling way’. The eventual upshot was a resolution, passed by the Court of Directors in August 1784, ‘that no clerk of the Bank should act as a Stockbroker under pain of immediate dismission from his employment’, while if any clerk was still in partnership with a stockbroker he must ‘immediately discontinue the connexion’. Notices to that effect, painted in large letters, were accordingly posted in the Rotunda and each of the Transfer Offices.

These three areas of concern were not the only ones. The Committee also demanded that current Bank ledgers should no longer be left out all night open on desks; that the lockers that generally kept the Bank’s books should be much less flimsily constructed; that access to vaults containing bills and notes should be much more tightly controlled; and above all that the senior men should raise their game. ‘Very extraordinary’ was the Committee’s verdict on the disturbing revelation that the chiefs of the departments and the heads of the offices were usually the first each day to quit the Bank, ‘leaving the charge of everything to the vigilance and honesty of junior clerks’; and the Committee insisted that henceforth those at the top were to be ‘held accountable for the conduct of those immediately under them’. Altogether, it was a commendably root-and-branch exercise that Bosanquet and his two fellow-directors undertook in 1783–4. And their sixth and final report ended with all due sonority:

When we contemplate the immense importance of the Bank of England not only to the City of London, in points highly essential to the promotion & extension of its Commerce, but to the Nation at large, as the grand Palladium of Publick Credit, we cannot but be thoroughly persuaded that an Object so great in itself & so interesting to all Ranks of the Community, must necessarily excite care & solicitude in every breast, for the wise administration of its Affairs, but principally & directly in theirs who are entrusted with the immediate management of them.

‘We deem it therefore superfluous,’ they concluded, ‘to say a single word to the Court with a view of inculcating a religious Veneration for the glorious fabrick, or of recommending a steady and unremitting attention to its sacred Preservation.’

All too soon, however, there was another scandal, another committee. Samuel Bosanquet may have judged Francis Fonton ‘a very good regular clerk’, but in September 1790 he was found guilty of forging stock receipts for his own financial gain, leading to his hanging in November. That same month a Special Committee was appointed, resulting in March 1791 in the promulgation of seventeen ‘Rules and Orders’ relating to the daily conduct of every clerk. These included much more rigorous attendance requirements; an injunction that each clerk should conduct himself ‘with zeal and activity to the business allotted him’, paying ‘implicit obedience to the directions of his superiors in office’; a similar exhortation to behave to the public ‘with the utmost civility and assiduity without giving a preference to any, but serving each person in his proper turn’; and a series of specific demands, such as not to move freely between offices, not ‘on any account’ to employ a non-Bank person on Bank business, not without permission to ‘allow any person to have access to books or papers belonging to the Bank, or to furnish extracts thereof, or information of any kind relating to the business of the House’, not to make unauthorised erasures in Bank books (ledgers), and not only to report to the chief cashier or chief accountant knowledge of any ‘unfaithfulness, fraud, error, or any indirect practices against the interest of the Bank committed by any person whatever’, but to ‘use every endeavour to prevent or detect the same’. There were also similarly stern injunctions for the Bank’s senior men; in addition the Special Committee successfully recommended both the recruitment of at least eight day porters to enhance internal security and the taking in hand of the Library, still ‘encumbered with much useless lumber’ in the shape of cancelled banknotes and redundant old books. This task, sensibly added the Committee, was to be undertaken by ‘a few active young men’, for the three existing librarians, all long in the tooth, were ‘seldom disposed to spend any great part of their time in a building where at some seasons they must expect to find it cold and damp’.12

Rome was not built in a day, and January 1792 saw the unwelcome discovery that two clerks, Richard Hands and Shadrach Shaw, had been systematically defrauding the Bank through forged stock transfers, disguising their crime by using their own money to pay dividends to the real owners. Although Hands got away, Shaw found himself being sentenced at the Old Bailey to seven years’ transportation; and, in a perhaps surprisingly generous gesture, the Bank sent £50 to the captain of the Royal Admiral ‘for extra expenses which he will incur in affording some comforts and conveniences to Shadrach Shaw who is to go to Botany Bay as a convict on board such ship’. Before their fall from grace, Hands and Shaw would have been just in time to see the handsome outfits worn by the newly recruited day porters, in the event eleven of them. ‘The said Day Porters to be furnished with coats and badges,’ recorded the Court minutes in May 1791, with the high probability that this was when what became a familiar and famous uniform (salmon-pink tailed jacket, red waistcoat, black trousers, silk top hat) began to be worn. Who designed it? At least one Bank historian has speculated that John Soane may well have had a leading hand in the choice of livery; and given that over the years it would set off so well against his great banking halls, only the pedantic or curmudgeonly might wish to find evidence showing otherwise.13

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