Anne Murphy’s new book invites us to consider a day in the life of one of the nation’s most durable institutions, the Bank of England. Taking full advantage of a thorough inspection of the Bank carried out in 1783–4, she seeks to illuminate its significance in 18th-century Britain through a tour of its principal offices and a reconstruction of its daily routines. The resultant book, Virtuous Bankers, is compelling and lively, and will please both academic and general readers.
One of the leading scholars of the City of London in the 18th century, Murphy is well placed to guide this tour, and she does so with conviction and clarity. The bulk of the book flows very well, with the Bank’s employees sequentially introduced to us as their daily tasks unfold hour by hour. Only in the final sections does the narrative pace drop a little as the author tackles the eclectic range of activities to be found at the end of the working day. This structure also helps Murphy to connect the Bank’s human denizens with its physical environment, one of the most fascinating themes of the book.
The undoubted heroes of Murphy’s story are the Bank’s cadre of over three hundred clerks. With technology still limited to quill and ink, the processing of the core business of the national bank was entrusted to a number of dedicated teams, which spent long hours performing monotonous tasks to