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The Bank of England in literature

Chapters

    The Bank of England makes an appearance in literature as a setting, an institution and even a character in itself.

    This short guide explores some examples of the Bank of England’s role in literature.

    Writers and banknotes

    The new ten pound note features Jane Austen, one of the world’s best-loved authors.

    Money was a huge theme in her work as it was central to domestic life. In the late 18th and 19th centuries, women were financially dependent on their father or husband. However, many of the heroines in Austen’s novels refuse to marry for money or social necessity – like Jane herself, who never married.

    Austen isn’t the only writer to have appeared on a banknote. Shakespeare was on the £20 note between 1970 and 1992 and Charles Dickens featured on the £10 note between 1992 and 2003.

    Dickens is one of the most famous storytellers of London. In The Pickwick Papers, he includes a scene set in our Consol’s Office.

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    The Consol’s Office, Bank of England, 1894 – Image from the Bank of England’s Archive

    Dickens would have visited that office himself as he held several accounts at the Bank of England, including a joint account with John Forster – a friend, agent and publisher of Dickens’ journal, Household Words.

    A few of the articles Dickens wrote for the journal focused on the Bank of England banknotes and people who forged them.

    Among them, one is about Richard Vaughan, who is said to have faked banknotes to give to his wife-to-be as part of a marriage settlement.

    Dickens claims that Vaughan tried to eat the evidence after being caught. One of these notes remains in the Bank’s museum today (thankfully, not one of the chewed ones).

    Thefts and frauds at the Bank

    Phileas Fogg’s epic journey in Around the World in Eighty Days follows a fictional theft at the Bank of England:

    ‘A package of banknotes, to the value of fifty-five thousand pounds, had been taken from the principal cashier’s table…’

    Fogg and his friends debate how quickly and how far a robber could travel after such a robbery. Before long, things intensify and Fogg bets he can travel the world in eighty days – then sets off to prove it.

    However, his departure convinces police detectives that it was Fogg who was the thief, which leads to a chase around the globe to capture him.

    In other novels, people manage to creep into the gold vaults via the sewers in order to steal gold. No thefts like this have ever been recorded at the Bank, but legend has it that in the 1830s the Directors of the Bank received a letter, stating that its anonymous writer had access to the gold vaults.

    Gold-Image

    Gold stored in the vaults at the Bank of England

    Which other writers are associated with us?

    John Keats, Thomas Gray, John Donne and Daniel Defoe were all born within a few minutes’ walk of the Bank of England. Shakespeare also lived close by. Over the years, many authors’ work explores key themes associated with the Bank.

    An interesting example is Kenneth Grahame, who spent his whole career working here, after joining the staff in 1879. He published his popular novel, The Wind and the Willows, in 1908, shortly after he retired as secretary of the Bank of England.

    One of Grahame’s short stories for children, The Reluctant Dragon, is a retelling of the tale of St George and the dragon. Although intended for a younger audience, the novel describes some of the tensions in his dual life as both a Bank official and a celebrated author.

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