John Keyworth - Curator of The Bank of England Museum, London, EC2R

Interview by Sally Kindberg for Cityguide Magazine

John Keyworth is the curator of the recently refurbished museum of the Bank of England. The museum originally opened in 1988.  I talked to John in his small office (chilly in winter apparently) tucked in a corner under a splendid 1930s domed lantern designed by Sir Herbert Baker and supported by demure caryatids, 18C statues of draped ladies from the earlier Sir John Soane Bank. A waterfall of books and papers had escaped the bookshelves in John’s office and poured onto and covered every available surface.

When asked how he came to be curator John told me it was by a circuitous route.  He originally wanted to be a doctor, but instead had a spell in the army and later joined the Bank in 1962, the same time as Eddie George, Governor from 1993 to 2003. They both thought their jobs were the best in the Bank.

Having seen the dashing salmon-pink tailcoats, scarlet waistcoats and black top-hats of the Bank of England Day Porters’ livery, I asked John if he ever had to wear special curator’s clothes – he was wearing a fairly restrained suit and tie when I met him.  Disappointingly he did not, and told me that any rumours that the Governor of the Bank occasionally dressed up in special robes was a myth.

About 70,000 vistors come to the Museum every year.  “We see a slice of the population, not a layer,” says John, his eyes twinkling, looking like an amiable GP, “and certainly not just City slickers .. we see everyone, from Primary school children to members of the University of the Third Age..”  John is full of enthusiasm for the various aspects of the Museum .. the history of the Bank, its unique exhibits, and popular interactive displays. 

John’s favourite exhibit is an 18C James Gillray cartoon, but most visitors prefer the ingot of gold on display in the Rotunda.  Members of the public can stick their hands into a heavily protected case and handle a 13 kilogram bar of the shiny stuff, worth £135,242 the day I visited.  John described the money stored in the Bank’s deep basements as looking like “a sea of gold”.  He added that the basements have a particular strong smell, “the smell of money”, from ink on the banknotes.  John was adamant that “plastic will never take over completely, there’ll always be banknotes.”

And a good thing too, I thought as I left the curator’s office to revisit the museum. 

John had described the museum as having a “tunnel of love” approach .. low lighting and winding passageways.  Perhaps most people’s feeling about money isn’t exactly romantic, but when I went to revisit my own favourite exhibits, the elaborately engraved banknotes on display did have a certain seductive quality...

The Bank of England Museum, whose entrance is in Bartholomew Lane, is open from 10 am to 5 pm Monday to Friday.  Entrance is free.  For more information about the Bank see www.bankofengland.co.uk.

On Saturday July 8th there is an Open Door Day when the Bank and Museum are open to visitors from 10am till 4 pm.  Contact the Bank about tours

« Profiles Correspondent for Cityguide Magazine » Curator of Dr Johnson's House, London, EC4
All content © 2008 S. Kindberg unless otherwise credited - All Rights Reserved