Mocking The Old Lady

The Bank of England is to host a Cartoons and Caricatures exhibition featuring satirical works depicting the Bank and the undulating political landscape over 300 years.

Midas Transmuting All Into Paper by James Gillray, published 9 March 1797
Midas Transmuting All Into Paper by James Gillray, published 9 March 1797

That means original drawings from the likes of James Gillray, George Cruikshank and John Tenniel, as well as more contemporary lampooners like Steve Bell, Chris Duggan and Andy Davey.

It seems the Bank of England isn’t scared of its own history, which is less then favourable at times, as the exhibition – designed by Tuch Design – sees it showcase works which belie uncomfortable truths.

Bank Restriction Note by George Cruikshank 1819
Bank Restriction Note by George Cruikshank 1819

Truths like the poor quality of banknotes at the beginning of the 19th century, which were laid bear for all to see by Cruikshank.

In 1819 as a protest against the severity of anti-forgery laws – which carried the death sentence as punishment until 1832 – Cruikshank mocked up his own banknote festooned with skulls and a hangman’s noose and ‘signed’ by the public executioner Jack Ketch.  It’s surprising that Cruikshank himself escaped a hanging.

The Old Lady of Threadneedle Street in Danger by James Gillray 22 May 1797
The Old Lady of Threadneedle Street in Danger by James Gillray 22 May 1797

You may know The Bank of England as The Old Lady, a name which was coined in a 1797 cartoon by James Gillray entitled Political Ravishment or The Old Lady of Threadneedle Street in Danger.

It attacks Prime Minister William Pitt The Younger and makes the suggestion that he has misused his power to get his hands on the bank’s reserves.

The Governor, coloured lithograph depicting Montagu Norman, published in Punch 18 September 1935
The Governor, coloured lithograph depicting Montagu Norman, published in Punch 18 September 1935

Gillray’s freckly Pitt The Younger can be seen making unwanted advances on The Old Lady, the embodiment of the bank, clothed in a dress of money.

The original cartoon, which spawned countless other spoofs using The Old Lady moniker, will be on display.

The great Hall, Bank of England by Augustus Pugin and Thomas Rowlandson, published 1 February 1808
The great Hall, Bank of England by Augustus Pugin and Thomas Rowlandson, published 1 February 1808

 ‘The bank’s collection presents an immediate and compelling illustration of its long history, the world events, political circumstances and characters which have shaped and affected its work and changing place in society,’ says the Bank of England.

Representation of Ye Gull Trap and Ye Principal Actors in Ye New Farce Called Ye Hoak by George Cruikshank, published 6 April 1814
Representation of Ye Gull Trap and Ye Principal Actors in Ye New Farce Called Ye Hoak by George Cruikshank, published 6 April 1814

Cartoons and Caricatures is free and runs from 17 May – 31 December at The Bank of England, Bartholemew Lane, Threadneedle Street, London EC2R 8AH.

Latest articles

Remembering Jon Daniel: 1966-2017

We look back on the life and work of the Design Week columnist, independent creative director and social activist “who helped put black participation on the political map”.