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Bank of England

The Bank of England is the central bank of the United Kingdom. Sometimes known as "The Old Lady of Threadneedle Street" or "The Old Lady". It has eight branches.

It performs all the recognized functions of a central bank -- to maintain price stability, and subject to that, to support the economic policy of Her Majesty's Government (Bank of England Act 1998). It has a monopoly on the issue of banknotes in England and Wales (see Sterling); it is both the Government's banker and the bankers' bank; a "Lender of Last Resort"; it manages the country's foreign exchange and gold reserves and the Government's stock register; it is responsible for the regulation of the banking industry (see Johnson Matthey[?], BCCI, and Barings). Since 1997 it has had the responsibility for setting the official interest rate. Scottish and Northern Irish banks retain the right to issue their own banknotes, but they must be backed one to one with deposits in the Bank of England.

The current Governor of the Bank of England is Sir Mervyn Allister King, who took over on June 30 2003 from Sir Edward George.


The bank was founded along with the Bank of Scotland[?] by William Paterson[?] in 1694 to act as the English Government's banker; the Bank of Scotland was to be the Scottish Government's banker. He proposed a loan of 1.2m to the Government; in return the subscribers would be incorporated as the Governor and Company of the Bank of England with banking privileges including the issue of notes. The Royal Charter was granted on July 27 1694. The first governor was Sir John Houblon, who is depicted in the 50 note issued in 1994. The charter was renewed in in 1742, 1764, and 1781. In 1734 the Bank moved to its current location on Threadneedle Street, slowly acquiring the land to create the edifice seen today.

When the idea and reality of the National Debt came about during the 18th century this was also managed by the bank. By the charter renewal in 1781 it was also the bankers' bank - keeping enough gold to pay its notes on demand until February 26, 1797 when war had so diminished gold reserves that the Government prohibited the Bank from paying out in gold. This lasted until 1821.

The 1844 Bank Charter Act tied the issue of notes to the gold reserves and gave the bank sole rights with regard to the issue of banknotes. Private banks which had previously had that right retained it, provided that their headquarters were outside London and that they deposited security against the notes that they issued. A few English banks continued to issue their own notes until the last of them was taken over in the 1930s. The Scottish private banks still have that right. Britain remained on the gold standard until 1931 when the gold and foreign exchange reserves were transferred to the Treasury. But their management was still handled by the Bank. In 1870 the Bank was given responsibility for interest rate policy.

During the governorship of Montagu Norman, which lasted from 1920 to 1944, the Bank made deliberate efforts to move away from commercial banking and become a central bank. In 1946, shortly after the end of Norman's tenure, the Bank was nationalised.

In 1997 the bank's Monetary Policy Committee was given sole responsibility for setting interest rates to meet the Government's stated inflation target.

The nearest London Underground station, and thus a busy commuter stop, is Bank tube station.

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