Bank of England
The Bank of England was incorporated by act of Parliament in 1694 with
the immediate purpose of raising funds to allow the English government
to wage war against France in the Low Countries (see). A royal allowed
the bank to operate as a joint-stock bank with limited liability. No
other joint-stock banks were permitted in England and Wales until 1826.
This special status and its position as the government’s banker gave the
bank considerable competitive advantages.
The bank was located first in Mercers’ Hall and then in Grocers’ Hall,
but it was moved to its permanent location on Threadneedle Street in the
1730s. By that time it had become the largest and most prestigious
financial institution in England, and its bank notes were widely
circulated. As a result, it became banker to other banks, which, by
maintaining balances with the Bank of England, could settle debts among
themselves. The bank was threatened by the economic instability that
accompanied the, but its standing was also considerably enhanced by its
actions in raising funds for Britain’s involvement in those conflicts.
During the 19th century the bank gradually assumed the responsibilities
of a central bank. In 1833 it began to print legal tender, and it
undertook the roles of lender of last resort and guardian of the
nation’s gold reserves in the following few decades.
The bank was privately owned until 1946, when it was nationalized. It
funds public borrowing, issues bank notes, and manages the country’s
gold and foreign exchange reserves. It is an important adviser to the
government on monetary policy and is largely responsible for
implementing the chosen policy by its dealings in the money, bond, and
foreign exchange markets. The bank’s freedom of action in this regard
was considerably enhanced when it was given the power to determine
short-term interest rates in 1997.
The Colonial Office in the Bank of England, unsigned watercolour by one
of Sir John Soane’s draftsmen, c. 1818; in Sir John Soane’s Museum,
By courtesy of the trustees of Sir John Soane’s Museum, London;
photograph, R.B. Fleming
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