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Second phase of the north-west extension: Printing Offices and offices south of the Waiting Room Court, 1803-1810 (21)

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The north-west extension, covering over an acre of land, was built in two phases. Printing Offices and a new Barracks were housed within multi-storey fireproof brick buildings arranged around the Printing Office Court just north of the existing Accountants Office. The Barracks (3:11) occupied the lower storeys on the north side of the Court. The Printing Offices introduced state-of-the-art printing presses and a completely in-house printing process. Drawings showing the designs for these new buildings also show preliminary designs for rebuilding the Discount Office (3:10), Bullion Office (3:12) and the directors' parlours (3:13).

A drawing of the general layout of the offices (and other proposed alterations throughout the Bank) was approved in April 1805. More designs for the Printing Offices were approved on 8 January 1807, 'subject to reference to the Committee from time to time, for such further Divisions of the interior of the buildings, as may be found necessary' (Committee of Building minutes). Another design was approved in October 1807. In February 1808 the Bank of England bought 30 printing machines (Acres) and Soane presented a plan for completing the offices, stating that the offices should be finished in mid-March. A plan for the printing presses was presented on 7 July 1808.

The complex of printing offices were built in response to the increased demand for banknotes, a consequence of the Restriction Act passed in 1797. The Restriction prohibited cash payments for the duration of the nation's wars with France. Because of the lack of cash available to the public, more £1 and £2 banknotes needed to be printed. Thirty patented machines were purchased for the Bank, and these printed numbers and dates on banknotes at a remarkable speed.

Soane consulted the Bank's printer, Garnet Terry, for the offices' designs. The west wing contained the Engravers' offices, Writing Room and several well-lit rooms for printing presses. Over the Barracks was the Drying Room; the east wing was dedicated to clerical offices and the storage of paper and moulds.

Also included in this scheme are Soane's proposals for rearranging the existing offices, a design presented to the Bank's directors in February 1805. Soane proposed moving the directors' parlours into the new north-west wing and locating the Court Room in the newly-built Accountants Office. The clerks' offices, in turn, would occupy the exising directors' parlours. Such a move would site the more public rooms closer to the front entrance. The directors considered the plan but ultimately chose to retain the traditional arrangement of offices that they had occupied since 1765.

The drawings in this scheme include general plans of the Bank, showing preliminary designs for various offices throughout the Bank. More drawings for the design history of these offices may be found in their respective schemes (for example, the Bullion Office, Directors' parlours and Discount Office).

In 1831, a steam engine, designed by a Mr Perkins, was installed for heating the printers' copper plates with hot water rather than charcoal (Acres).

Literature: M. Acres, The Bank of England from within, 1931, pp. 322-345, 450-451; A.D. Mackenzie, The Bank of England note: a history of its printing, 1953, pp. 38-47; D. Abramson, Building the Bank of England, 2005, p. 166.

Madeleine Helmer, 2011



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Sir John Soane's collection includes some 30,000 architectural, design and topographical drawings which is a very important resource for scholars worldwide. His was the first architect’s collection to attempt to preserve the best in design for the architectural profession in the future, and it did so by assembling as exemplars surviving drawings by great Renaissance masters and by the leading architects in Britain in the 17th and 18th centuries and his near contemporaries such as Sir William Chambers, Robert Adam and George Dance the Younger. These drawings sit side by side with 9,000 drawings in Soane’s own hand or those of the pupils in his office, covering his early work as a student, his time in Italy and the drawings produced in the course of his architectural practice from 1780 until the 1830s.

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Contents of Second phase of the north-west extension: Printing Offices and offices south of the Waiting Room Court, 1803-1810 (21)