Located in the heart of the London metropolis, dating back to Roman times, the “City of London” (a specific borough of London) had an important business and financial center. Its role as an international financial center has long historical roots. My London-born and raised friend, who loved to share the delights of his hometown, took me on his self-designed tour of this story. Although a finance-focused tour may seem like a yawn, I can assure you that our day was anything but boring. We had a fun and memorable time exploring the history of bankers and brokers in “the city”. Here are some sites to visit to create your own fun financial history day.
1. Temple Bar Memorial
The sculpture of a dragon stands atop a pedestal in front of the Royal Courts of Justice on Strand Street. It marks the boundary between the City of Westminster and the City of London.
In the Middle Ages, the City of London erected gates on the main entry routes, including one in the Temple area, to regulate trade. A two-story arched doorway, which had been designed in the 17th century by Christopher Wren to replace an older doorway, was removed in 1878 and the Temple Memorial dragon statue was erected in 1880.
The statue sits in the middle of the street with traffic on either side. East of the memorial, Strand Street turns into Fleet Street.
2. Twinings flagship store
A short walk from the Temple Bar Memorial at 216 Strand is the Twinings Flagship Store, London’s oldest tearoom.
Banking and brokerage in London started in cafes. In the 17th and 18th centuries, men gathered in cafés to follow the news of the day and do business. Thomas Twinings bought Tom’s Coffee House on the Strand in 1706 and started selling tea to differentiate his business from others. When tea became popular, business boomed. Today, Twinings sells over 500 varieties of tea worldwide.
Inside the shop you’ll find many of these teas available for purchase and a display case showcasing the history of Twining. A tasting bar allows you to taste different flavors and types of tea.
3. Chic Banks
The banks along Strand and Fleet Street reflect the financial importance of the area. Some of these banks are well identified and easily recognizable as banks. Others, on the other hand, present a more discreet facade. Many are private banks whose clients are wealthy individuals and families. A peek into the halls reveals chic interiors. Some banks are so exclusive that you won’t be allowed in, although the C. Hoare & Co. security guard at 37 Fleet Street allowed me to enter the entrance to have a look through the window. Wooden counters and glass cages are reminiscent of a bygone era. Founded in 1672, C. Hoare & Co. is the UK’s oldest private bank.
History and modern banking intertwine in this area. The Barclay’s Goslings branch at 19 Fleet Street still bears the three squirrels hanging sign, used to identify Gosling’s Bank established by a goldsmith-banker in 1650. It merged with Barclay’s in 1896.
Pro tip: The Lloyds Law Courts branch at 222 Strand, which closed in 2017, traces its history to Thomas Twinings who established the bank in 1824. In 1892 Lloyds took over the bank and moved into its premises Law Courts 3 years more late. The interior features intricate Doulton ceramic tiles painted by JH McLennan. JD Wetherspoon plans to convert the Grade II listed building into a pub. When this is finished, these beautiful tiles will once again be on display to the public.
4. Former Bank of England pub
Security guards will not prevent you from entering the Old Bank of England pub at 194 Fleet Street. Housed in the former branch of the Bank of England courthouse, which operated from 1888 to 1975, the pub has a stunning interior and ornate high ceilings.
The pub is located between what was once Sweeney Todd’s hair salon and the pie shop run by his mistress – with underground tunnels connecting the two shops. According to legend, Sweeney Todd slaughtered victims who were then baked and sold into Mrs Lovett’s pies in the mid-19th century. The story is generally considered a work of fiction.
5. Temple Church
Temple Church, located between Fleet Street and the River Thames, was built by the Military Order of the Knights Templar as their English headquarters. Knights were monks, soldiers, bankers and brokers for successive kings. They created one of the first banking systems. The Round Church – built to recreate the shape and sanctity of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem – was in use in 1163. The chancel was consecrated in 1240. The walls and ceilings of the church were renovated in the Victorian Gothic style in the 1840s.
The interior of the church is worth a visit. Here you will find Purbeck marble columns and stained glass windows. Signs in the round part of the church trace the history of the knights and the church. Here you will also find life-size stone effigies of nine 13th-century knights lying on the ground. There is also a Magna Carta exhibition as the church was the site of vital negotiations for the Royal Charter.
The church is accessible via Tudor Street.
Pro tip: South of Temple Church and next to Victoria Embankment you will find the Inns of Court, bar associations. Its inner temple gardens are open to the public at noon on weekdays. The peaceful gardens contain many unusual and special plants for all seasons. Check the time on your watch against the sundial.
6. Bank of England Museum
The Bank of England, founded in 1694, is the central bank of the United Kingdom whose mission is to provide monetary and financial stability to the people of the United Kingdom. The Bank of England Museum on Bartholomew Lane tells the story and history of this bank. Their collection includes archaeological objects, banknotes, coins, social histories and works of art. You can learn why people started using paper money, see the role women played in the design of Bank of England banknotes, try to pick up a gold bar, and see a great collection of gold coins. works of art and historical photographs.
7. Royal Stock Exchange Building
The history of the Royal Exchange, now a luxury shopping centre, dates back to the 16th century when merchant Thomas Gresham founded it as a center of commerce for the City of London. The courtyard cafe and bar is a great place to grab a refreshment.
The current building opened in 1844 after a fire destroyed the two previous structures. The classical-style building features a pediment with carvings supported by an eight-column Corinthian portico. A large arched entrance opens onto a courtyard covered with glass ceilings. The trapezoidal-shaped building sits between Threadneedle and Cornhill streets, where they intersect.
Stock traders and brokers initially operated off the exchange. Stockbrokers were banned in the 17th century because they were too rude and rowdy.
8. Change lanes
As mentioned above, when stockbrokers could no longer meet at the Royal Stock Exchange, they made cafes their base. The most popular of these was Johnathan’s Coffee House, which operated between 1680 and 1778. If you walk down Change Alley south of Cornhill Street opposite the Royal Exchange you will find a plaque commemorating its location.
9. Jamaica Wine House
Jamaica Wine House, known locally as “the Jampot,” sits in St. Michael’s Alley amidst a maze of medieval alleyways off Cornhill Street. It is located on the site of London’s first café, built in 1652 and operated by Pasqua Rosée. This café, called in some stories “the head of the Turk”, is identified on a plaque in the Allée Saint-Michel as “the nod of the head of Pasqua Rosée”. It later became the Jamaica Coffee House. The current red sandstone building was built in 1869. Today the ground floor houses a traditional London pub with a wood-panelled bar and high ceilings. Todd’s Wine Bar operates in the cozy basement.
10. The Counting House Pub
The Counting House at 50 Cornhill is an opulent and lively pub serving dinner and drinks. Built in 1893 as Prescott’s Bank, the building’s foundation rests partly on the north wall of a 2,000-year-old Roman basilica. The grandeur of the old banking hall was preserved when the pub was refurbished in 1998. Although they are not the only choice on the menu, the pub is known for its meat pies.
For more on the plethora of things to do in and around London, check out these articles: