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 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 and Northern Irish 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 of 2.5%. Should inflation miss the target by over 1%, the governor would have write a letter to the Chancellor of the Exchequer explaining why and how he would remedy the situation.
The Bank of England has issued banknotes since 1694. Notes were originally hand-written, although they were partially printed from 1725 onwards cashiers still had to sign each note and make them payable to someone. Notes were fully printed from 1855, no doubt to the relief of the banks' workers. Until 1928 all notes were "White Notes", printed in black and with a blank reverse. During the 20th century White Notes were issued in denominations between £5 and £1000, but in the 18th and 19th centuries there were White Notes for £1 and £2. In the twentieth century, the Bank issued notes for ten shillings and one pound for the first time on 22 November1928 when the Bank took over responsibility for these denominations from the Treasury which had issued notes of these denominations three days after the declaration of war in 1914 in order to remove gold coins from circulation.
During the Second World War the German Operation Bernhard attempted to counterfeit various denominations between £5 and £50 in an attempt to destabilise the British economy, producing 500,000 notes each month in 1943 -- although most fell into Allied hands at the end of the war, forgeries were frequently appearing for years afterward, so all denominations of banknote above £5 were subsequently removed from circulation.
All old Bank of England notes remain exchangeable for current notes forever. Notes can either be taken in person to the Bank in London during normal business hours, or sent by post at the sender's risk to:
The Bank of England's first ever ten shilling note was issued on 22 November 1928. This note featured a vignette of Britannia, a feature of the Bank's notes since 1694. The predominant colour was red-brown. Unlike previous notes it, and the contemporaneous £1 note, were not dated but are instead identified by the signature of the Chief Cashier of the time. In 1940 a metal security thread was introduced for the first time, and the colour of the note was changed to mauve for the duration of the war. The original design of the note was replaced by the "Series C" design in 1960, when Queen Elizabeth agreed to allow the use of her portrait on the notes. The ten shilling note was withdrawn following the introduction in 1969 of the fifty pence coin.
The Bank of England's first one pound note since 1845 was issued on 22 November 1928. This note featured a vignette of Britannia, a feature of the Bank's notes since 1694. The predominant colour was green. Unlike previous notes it, and the contemporaneous ten shilling note, were not dated but are instead identified by the signature of the Chief Cashier of the time. In 1940 a metal security thread was introduced for the first time, and the colour of the note was changed to pink for the duration of the war. The original design of the note was replaced by the "Series C" design in 1960, when Queen Elizabeth agreed to allow the use of her portrait on the notes.
In 1977 the "Series D" design (known as the "Pictorial Series") featuring Sir Isaac Newton on the reverse was issued, but following the introduction in 1983 of the One Pound coin, the note was withdrawn from circulation in 1988.