London’s Forgotten Bank
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.