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Cheers to the ‘Old Lady of Threadneedle Street’ : Architecture: The 106-year-old Bank of England building, like other venerable structures, is doing new duty--as a pub.

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Looking at the sky-high marble and the golden chandeliers, you might think nothing much has changed since the Bank of England opened this branch on Fleet Street in 1888.

But the clink of beer glasses rings in a new era now that one of Britain’s big brewers has converted the cavernous old place into a pub--minus the jukeboxes, televisions and gaming machines that have invaded some English drinking establishments.

“If people fancy a night with loud music, then let them go somewhere else,” said Iain Anderson, manager of the Old Bank of England, operated by Fuller, Smith and Turner PLC.

London is the world banking center, but as computers and look-alike suburban branch offices change the face of the industry, Britain is left with an urban landscape littered with old offices not readily adaptable to modern banking methods. Finding uses for them is not always easy.

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Many old banks, designed to lure business, have elaborate architecture worthy of a church and they often are viewed as local landmarks. Preservationists try to keep out the wrecking balls and cringe when a McDonald’s slaps the golden arches onto an old facade.

“A pub is not a bad use,” said Gordon Higgott, an officer with English Heritage, which reviews new uses for listed buildings. “It’s no longer suitable as a bank--and buildings have to pay their way in the world.”

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A gathering of early afternoon drinkers nodded their approval recently.

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“It’s always nice when you go to a new place to find a few faults, but there aren’t any here,” Patrick Kennedy said. “When you went to see the banker, you expected to see a grand hall. I’m very impressed.”

The real Bank of England, known throughout London’s financial district as the “Old Lady of Threadneedle Street,” is apparently taking the transformation of its former digs with a dose of humor.

The bank’s deputy governor, Rupert Pennant-Rea, plans to attend an opening ceremony next Tuesday and pull a few pints of beer out of the casks.

But that’s about as much interest as the central bank is going to show in the brewing business.

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“We have no plans to open a pub in the Bank of England,” the central bank said through a spokeswoman.

Ironically, when the original bank building was designed in the mid-1880s, right next to London’s Law Courts, construction crews had to knock down two pubs to make way for it.


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