London’s Forgotten Bank

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London in the mid-18th century was a city on the cusp of becoming the richest and most powerful place on earth. At its epicentre was one family, running the oldest and greatest bank in the world.

It was the bank of the rich and famous, with a client list that included Samuel Pepys, David Garrick, Beau Nash, Lord Byron, Jane Austen, members of the Royal Family, Prime Ministers and countless Lords and Ladies.

The bank was run by Henry Hoare II, known as Henry The Magnificent, charismatic, handsome and intelligent. Not only did he inherit the lions’ share of the bank and premises on Fleet Street, but also the family’s country estate, the magnificent Stourhead House in Wiltshire. Ladies considered him to be the finest catch in London.

But there were both personal and national battles to be fought. Henry’s first wife died in childbirth, his daughters were preyed upon by fortune-seeking families, there were deceptions, rivalries and heartbreaks to endure.

The massive trading collapse triggered by the South Sea Bubble brought ruin to business and individuals. Insider trading was rife. Henry and his staff were forced into daily battles against embezzlement, corruption, incompetence, fraud and outright robbery. Rich clients lived beyond their means and were caught up in outrageous scandals. The bank had government ties and there was a volatile international war to pay for. Looking after the rich, famous and powerful required the greatest tact and delicacy.

The parallels with our modern economy are unmistakeable, but there was one surprising difference. Although outside the edifice of Messrs Hoare, Bankers, prostitutes and criminals had free rein, and private citizens were legally responsible to apprehend wrongdoers, inside Henry, his staff and family had to remain in the calm eye of the storm. For incredibly, the family and staff actually lived in the same building as the counting house. Private and public business were completely intertwined.

The story of London’s forgotten bank would make a great TV series.

7 comments on “London’s Forgotten Bank”

  1. Henry Ricardo says:

    I’m on my way back to London from Edinburgh. I’ll check it out if I have time.

  2. Vince blackall says:

    During the hot summer of 1975 I worked at C Hoare and co for six months, installing their first computer system. I still remember some of the quaint traditions performed by junior clerks -Ironing newspapers in the mornings before taking them to the partners, addressing all partners as Mr James, Mr Henry etc
    My favourite memory was one particularly hot day where the temperature in the non air conditioned Fleet st building must have been close to 100 degrees. Clerks were dispatched to all staff offices to deliver a message from the partners. The message, delivered by shouting, was that ‘ Jackets today are not mandatory and Gentlemen may loosen their ties if they wish to do do’
    I often walk past the ‘Golden Bottle’ outside 37 Fleet st and wonder/hope that nothing has changed inside.

  3. snowy says:

    Off topic slightly, apols.

    Anybody still hankering for a copy of Michel Serrault’s Docter Petiot? It has been (re)released on DVD.

    Distrib. link

    http://www.tamasadiffusion.com/boutique/boutika-tamasadvd/produit.php?PHPSESSID=ebec8384ba6cd97f5b3f8d27febbf768&prod=60

    Available from, you know who, but you need to use .fr rather than .co.uk or .com.

    NOTE. Only available in Region 2 and PAL, and MAY NOT have English Subtitles.

  4. Helen Martin says:

    Vince, I thought that ironing the newspaper was just a joke put into stories to indicate obsessiveness. Thank you for the two sides of an institution that certainly deserves to survive – honouring the past as well as welcoming the new. I will avoid quoting Polonius.

  5. snowy says:

    Ironing newspapers would ‘set’ the ink used when they were printed.

    There was little time for it to dry naturally when the complete newspaper came of the press at 3 AM and was on the breakfast table 4-5 hours later.

    [Inks have got better but even 20 years ago a good read of a broadsheet could leave you looking like you had spent a shift down a coalmine.]

  6. Helen Martin says:

    Snowy, that is something I should have known. Yes, I remember having to wash my hands after reading the paper.

  7. Pythinia says:

    I have read a few of your books Christopher – I think Machiavellian jokster is a good description, you write so well you must have a lot of mental stamina. Mind you can you lighten up a bit about London I was there recently in East Dulwich living right beside a lovely tree-lined park with people smiling and pleasant in the summer sun.

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