For over 250 years, the Bank of England was a private bank owned by various shareholders. We were nationalised in 1946. Since then we have been wholly owned by the UK government.
Who owns the Bank of England?
Who were the original owners of the Bank of England?
The ‘Governor and Company of the Bank of England’ (better known as the Bank of England) was established by Royal Charter in 1694 to raise money to fund a war with France. Over 1,200 people purchased shares (at the time called ‘Bank stock’) totalling £1.2 million, which was the value of the government loan.
The first shareholders came from a wide variety of backgrounds, trades and professions – carpenters and grocers, merchants, doctors, knights and royalty.
In the video below, Mike Anson, our Archive Manager, shows the first ‘Bank stock ledger’ from 1694:
The opening entry of £10,000 – held by King William and Queen Mary – would be equivalent to approximately £1.25 million today.
Over the years, we raised more money to increase our capital and the number of shareholders grew. Some of the stock was held by institutions and firms, such as other banks, but the majority of shareholders continued to be private individuals.
In many ways, we functioned like other private companies. Profits were used to pay annual dividends to our shareholders. These dividends varied year to year, depending on the level of profits.
Those with more than £500 of Bank of England stock were entitled to vote at annual meetings. Those who served as the Governor were required to hold at least £4,000 of stock; those serving as a Director needed to have £2,000.
When was the Bank of England nationalised?
Although we were still privately owned, from the mid-19th century onwards we started to behave less like other private banks and more like what today would be called a central bank. For example, we had a monopoly on the issuance of banknotes in England and Wales and took responsibility for protecting the financial system.
We were nationalised by the government in 1946 due to our importance to the economy. Various other central banks across Europe passed from private to public ownership around this time.
At the time of nationalisation, we had:
Most shareholders held relatively small amounts of Bank Stock. Of the 17,000 shareholders, two thirds held less than £1,000 in their accounts. All of this stock was bought by the government, with shareholders compensated according to the size of their shares at the time of nationalisation.
Who owns the Bank of England today?
Today, we are wholly-owned by the UK government. The entire capital of the Bank, around £14.6 million, is held by the Treasury Solicitor on behalf of HM Treasury. A forthcoming guide will set out how we are funded. There are some misconceptions on the internet about the Bank of England today being owned by private families, the Royal Family or run as a private corporation. However, these stories are untrue.
Crucially, though, while we are owned by HM Treasury, we carry out our responsibilities free from day-to-day political influence. The links below and our main website explain more about how we are governed.
Find out more:
- Find out more about the Bank of England’s Archive which includes a transcription of the original list of our shareholders.
- More details about the roles, activities and accountability of the Bank of England are provided in our Annual Report. This article describes how our role has changed over time.
Cover image: Bank of England Archive reference AC27/382