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London mystery: exclusive banking?

Posted at 4:00 pm, July 2, 2012 in Fun London, Secret London
London Mysteries - Messrs Hoare Fleet Street

Each week we put our impressive civic wisdom to good use and solve one of London’s great mysteries as submitted by you, the reader. This week its the turn of Sandra Sharma of Forest Hill. She asks, ‘I was walking down Fleet Street recently and spotted a sign that read ‘Messrs Hoare, Bankers’, with a golden bottle above it. Can anyone open an account here?’

Now hear this, Sandra…

The bank you spotted is the only remaining independent private bank in London. Those that remain as subsidiaries mainly date back to the seventeenth century and are generally situated along Fleet Street and the Strand. At first, they were goldsmiths’ shops that accepted money from aristocratic families for safekeeping. Over time, the shops provided a service lending money, and by the eighteenth century, banking had become their main business.

Hoare’s, at 37 Fleet Street, was founded in 1672 and is run by the Hoare family – there are still lodging rooms there, as the bank has retained the tradition of at least one partner always being on the premises. Also on Fleet Street, at No 1, is Child & Co, the oldest bank in Britain. Founded in 1559, it is now a private banking arm of the Royal Bank of Scotland. Child’s has cases of muskets in its banking halls, a precaution it took after the Gordon Riots of 1780 (and maybe handy today in case those anti-capitalist demos turn nasty?). The best-known private bank is Coutts, at 440 Strand, famous for its association with the Queen. It was founded in 1692 but today is also part of the RBS group. The royal connection dates back to the eighteenth century when banker Thomas Coutts acquired the Privy Purse account. Communications on the royal account were conveyed by horse-drawn carriage between Buckingham Palace and the Strand until 1993, when the tradition was forced to end due to road safety concerns.

Originally private banks dealt solely with the wealthy. However, over time the strict criteria for those wishing to open an account have been relaxed. London’s  private institutions may still offer ‘old money’ tradition to long-established customers in the form of attentive staff and wood-panelled meeting rooms, but most have focused their attention on high earning professionals and City bankers, providing a one-to-one service to help manage day-to-day financial affairs. Priyana Mogul 

Got a London mystery you want unravelling? Comment below or tweet us @TimeOutLondon.

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