Jul 272017

On this date in 1694 the Bank of England, formally the Governor and Company of the Bank of England, received its royal charter. It is the central bank of the United Kingdom and the model on which most modern central banks have been based. It is the second oldest central bank in operation today, after the Sveriges Riksbank and the world’s 8th oldest bank. It was established to act as the English government’s banker and is still one of the bankers for the government of the United Kingdom.

The Bank’s headquarters has been in London’s main financial district, the City of London, on Threadneedle Street, since 1734. It is sometimes known by the metonym The Old Lady of Threadneedle Street or The Old Lady, a name taken from the legend of Sarah Whitehead, whose ghost is said to haunt the Bank’s garden. The busy road junction outside is known as Bank junction. As a regulator and central bank, the Bank of England has not offered consumer banking services for many years, but it still does manage a few public services such as exchanging superseded bank notes. Until 2016, the bank provided personal banking services as a popular privilege for employees.

England’s crushing defeat by France, the dominant naval power, in naval engagements culminating in the 1690 Battle of Beachy Head, became the catalyst for England’s rebuilding itself as a global power. England determined to build a powerful navy but no public funds were available, and the credit of William III’s government was so low in London that it was impossible for it to borrow the £1,200,000 (at 8% p.a.) that the government wanted.

To induce subscription to the loan, the subscribers were to be incorporated under the name of the “Governor and Company of the Bank of England”. The Bank was given exclusive possession of the government’s balances, and was the only limited-liability corporation allowed to issue bank notes. The lenders would give the government cash in bullion and issue notes against the government bonds, which could be lent again. £1.2m was raised in 12 days; half of this was used to rebuild the navy.

As a side effect, the huge industrial effort needed, (including establishing ironworks to make more nails for shipbuilding and advances in agriculture to ensure stable food supplies) quadrupled the strength of the navy, and started to transform the economy – resulting ultimately in the 18th and 19th century agrarian and industrial revolutions (concomitant with the 17th century scientific revolutions). This helped the new Kingdom of Great Britain – England and Scotland were formally united in 1707 – to become globally powerful, with the power of the new navy making Britain the dominant world power in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. There are many lessons to be learnt here; not all of them good ones. Financial and military strength yield strong dividends – especially for the rich minority – but they are not necessarily good for the majority, at home or abroad.

The establishment of a government bank was devised by Charles Montagu, 1st Earl of Halifax, in 1694. The “plan of 1691”, to float a loan and create a national bank, had been proposed by William Paterson three years before, but had not then been acted upon. Also, 28 years earlier, in 1636, Chief Financier to the king, Philip Burlamachi, had proposed exactly the same idea in a letter addressed to Sir Francis Windebank. He proposed a loan of £1.2m to the government. In return the subscribers would be incorporated as The Governor and Company of the Bank of England with long-term banking privileges including the issue of notes. The Royal Charter was granted on 27 July through the passage of the Tonnage Act 1694. Public finances were in such dire condition at the time that the terms of the loan were that it was to be serviced at a rate of 8% per annum, and there was also a service charge of £4,000 per annum for the management of the loan. The first governor was Sir John Houblon, who is depicted on the £50 note issued in 1994. The charter was renewed in 1742, 1764, and 1781.

The Bank’s original home was in Walbrook, a street in the City of London, where during reconstruction efforts in 1954 archaeologists found the remains of a Roman temple to Mithras who, among other things, was (ironically) the Roman god of contracts !! The Mithraeum ruins are some of the most famous of all 20th-century Roman discoveries in the City of London and can be viewed by the public.

The Bank moved to its current location in Threadneedle Street in 1734, and thereafter slowly acquired neighboring land to create the grand edifice seen today. Sir Herbert Baker’s rebuilding of the Bank, demolishing most of Sir John Soane’s earlier building, was described by architectural historian Nikolaus Pevsner as “the greatest architectural crime, in the City of London, of the twentieth century.” Given that 19th century London architecture is not much to write home about, I’ll demur on that one.

Something 17th century and green strikes me as a suitable dish du jour even though the color green is not especially dominant in English banknotes. Early notes were white, and, with the introduction of color, Bank of England notes have always been different colors and different sizes, unlike their US counterparts which have typically been green (and the same size) practically since their inception. Perhaps because of the style of US notes, however, “green” has always been a metonym for “money” so why not?  Here’s a 17th century recipe for crystallized green apples taken from A Daily Exercise for Ladies and Gentlewomen (1617) which I offer as is.

I don’t have a kitchen here in Myanmar, so I have no chance to experiment, and the wording is a little vague. What I envisage is that you peel and core the apples but then boil the peel and apple meat together until you have a green pulp. Strain out the pulp. Weigh the resultant apple mush and boil the equivalent weight of sugar with a little water until it reaches about 130˚C or higher. I don’t know exactly what “Candie height” means; it could be higher. Add the pulp to the sugar and keep boiling until the whole sits at around 140˚C. The spread it on a marble slab, let cool, and cut into squares.

To make an excellent greene Paste without any colouring.

Qvoddle greene Apples reasonably tender, pill off the outward skinne, and throw all the barke of the Apples into a Posnet of seething water, and so let it boile as fast as it can vntill it turne greene, then take them vp and straine the pulp, then boile the weight of it in Sugar to a Candie height, and put your pulp into the seething Sugar, and let it boile vntill it grow stiffe, then fashion it on a pie-plate, or a sheete of glasse, and pint it on mowlds, and drie it in a Stoue or a warm Ouen some tenne or twelue dayes, that it be perfectly drie, and then you may keepe it all the yeere.  

Mar 082014


Today is the birthday (1859) of Kenneth Grahame, a Scottish writer, most famous for The Wind in the Willows (1908), one of the classics of children’s literature, but beloved by adults too. He also wrote The Reluctant Dragon; both books were adapted into popular films.

Kenneth Grahame was born in Edinburgh. When he was a little more than 1 year old, his father, an advocate, received an appointment as sheriff-substitute in Argyllshire at Inveraray on Loch Fyne. Kenneth loved the sea and was happy there, but when he was 5, his mother died from complications of childbirth, and his father, who was an alcoholic, gave over care of Kenneth, his brother Willie, his sister Helen, and the new baby Roland to granny Ingles, the children’s grandmother, in Cookham Dean in the village of Cookham in Berkshire in England. There the children lived in a spacious, if dilapidated, home, “The Mount,” on spacious grounds, and were introduced to the riverside and boating by their uncle, David Ingles, curate at Cookham Dean church.


This ambiance, particularly Quarry Wood and the River Thames, is probably the inspiration for the setting for The Wind in the Willows.


He was an outstanding pupil at St Edward’s School in Oxford. During his early years at St. Edwards, a sports regimen had not been established and the boys had freedom to explore the city and upper reaches of the river Thames (known as the Isis in Oxford), and the nearby countryside.

Grahame wanted to attend Oxford University, but was not able to because of cost. Instead he was sent to work at the Bank of England in 1879, and rose through the ranks until retiring as its Secretary in 1908 due to ill health, which may have been precipitated by a strange, possibly political, shooting incident at the bank in 1903. Grahame was shot at three times – all shots missed. An alternative explanation, given in a letter on display in the Bank museum, is that Grahame had quarreled with Walter Cunliffe, one of the bank’s directors, who would later become Governor of the Bank of England, in the course of which he was heard to say that Cunliffe was “no gentleman,” and that his retirement was enforced ostensibly on health grounds.

Grahame married Elspeth Thomson in 1899. They had only one child, a boy named Alastair (whose nickname was “Mouse”), born blind in one eye and plagued by health problems throughout his short life. On Grahame’s retirement, they returned to Cookham where he had lived as a child, and lived at “Mayfield,” now Herries Preparatory School, where he turned the bedtime stories he told Alastair into his masterpiece, The Wind in the Willows.


Alastair eventually committed suicide on a railway track while an undergraduate at Oxford University, two days before his 20th birthday on 7 May 1920. Out of respect for Kenneth Grahame, Alastair’s death was recorded as an accidental death.

Grahame died in Pangbourne, Berkshire, in 1932. He is buried in Holywell Cemetery, Oxford. Grahame’s cousin Anthony Hope, also a successful author, wrote his epitaph, which reads: “To the beautiful memory of Kenneth Grahame, husband of Elspeth and father of Alastair, who passed the river on the 6th of July, 1932, leaving childhood and literature through him the more blest for all time.”


While still a young man in his 20s, Grahame began to publish light stories in London periodicals such as the St. James Gazette. Some of these stories were collected and published as Pagan Papers in 1893, and, two years later, The Golden Age. These were followed by Dream Days in 1898, which contains The Reluctant Dragon.


There is a ten-year gap between Grahame’s penultimate book and the publication of his triumph, The Wind in the Willows. During this decade, Grahame became a father. The wayward headstrong nature he saw in his little son Alastair he transformed into the swaggering Mr. Toad, one of its four principal characters. Despite its success, he never attempted a sequel. The book was a hit and is still enjoyed by adults and children today, whether in book form or in the films, while Toad remains one of the most celebrated and beloved characters of the book. Wind in the Willows won the Lewis Carroll Shelf Award in 1958. In the 1990s, William Horwood came up with a series of sequels, but they lack the charm and eloquence of the original.


What could be better to celebrate Grahame than a Victorian summer picnic by the river? As ever, I turn to Isabella Beeton.  This bill of fare is for 40 people but it gives the general idea.  Notice that it spreads over both lunch and tea. It’s rather heavy on meat and light on veggies.  I also love her occasional asides – “1 large cold plum-pudding (this must be good)”—and the occasional enigmatic comment – “Take 3 corkscrews.” Priceless.


2149. A joint of cold roast beef, a joint of cold boiled beef, 2 ribs of lamb, 2 shoulders of lamb, 4 roast fowls, 2 roast ducks, 1 ham, 1 tongue, 2 veal-and-ham pies, 2 pigeon pies, 6 medium-sized lobsters, 1 piece of collared calf’s head, 18 lettuces, 6 baskets of salad, 6 cucumbers.

2150. Stewed fruit well sweetened, and put into glass bottles well corked; 3 or 4 dozen plain pastry biscuits to eat with the stewed fruit, 2 dozen fruit turnovers, 4 dozen cheesecakes, 2 cold cabinet puddings in moulds, 2 blancmanges in moulds, a few jam puffs, 1 large cold plum-pudding (this must be good), a few baskets of fresh fruit, 3 dozen plain biscuits, a piece of cheese, 6 lbs. of butter (this, of course, includes the butter for tea), 4 quartern loaves of household broad, 3 dozen rolls, 6 loaves of tin bread (for tea), 2 plain plum cakes, 2 pound cakes, 2 sponge cakes, a tin of mixed biscuits, 1/2 lb, of tea. Coffee is not suitable for a picnic, being difficult to make.

Things not to be forgotten at a Picnic.

2151. A stick of horseradish, a bottle of mint-sauce well corked, a bottle of salad dressing, a bottle of vinegar, made mustard, pepper, salt, good oil, and pounded sugar. If it can be managed, take a little ice. It is scarcely necessary to say that plates, tumblers, wine-glasses, knives, forks, and spoons, must not be forgotten; as also teacups and saucers, 3 or 4 teapots, some lump sugar, and milk, if this last-named article cannot be obtained in the neighbourhood. Take 3 corkscrews.

2152. Beverages.—3 dozen quart bottles of ale, packed in hampers; ginger-beer, soda-water, and lemonade, of each 2 dozen bottles; 6 bottles of sherry, 6 bottles of claret, champagne à discrétion, and any other light wine that may be preferred, and 2 bottles of brandy. Water can usually be obtained so it is useless to take it.

Here is a recipe for veal and ham pie (also called veal, ham, and egg pie), a mainstay at picnics now as then.  Homemade cannot be beaten.  The pastry is called slack paste and breaks all the common rules for pastry using boiling fat instead of ice cold.  It is not rolled, but pulled and poked whilst warm until it lines the baking vessel.  The result is a surprisingly light and flaky yet strong pastry that holds its shape when pies are removed from their containers.  For smaller, individual pies the pastry is strong enough for them to be baked without containers, as with Scotch pies (see here for recipe).


Veal and Ham Pie

1lb/450 gm ground veal
4 oz/110 gm ground, boiled ham, minced
2 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
1 tsp ground mace
¼ tsp ground bay leaves
1 lemon, zest only
2 medium onions, finely chopped
4 oz/110 gm lard, plus extra for greasing the tin
3/4 cup/200 ml water
12 oz/350 gm plain flour
1 egg yolk
3 eggs, hard-boiled and shelled
2 tsp powdered gelatin
½ pint/300 ml boiling light stock


Pre-heat oven to  350 °F/ 180 °C

Grease a 2 ½ pint/1.4 liter loaf pan and line the base with greaseproof paper. Put the veal, ham, parsley, mace, bay leaves, lemon zest and onions in a bowl and mix well. Set aside.

Put the flour in a heatproof mixing bowl. Put the lard and water in a saucepan and gently heat until the lard has melted. Bring to the boil, remove from the heat and tip in to the flour all at once. Using a wooden spoon mix to form a soft dough. Beat the egg yolk into the dough. Cover with a damp cloth and let the dough rest until it has cooled just enough to be easy to work with bare hands. Do not allow the dough to cool completely. Cut the dough into two parts –3/4 for the base and 1/4 for the top. Reserve the top part in a warm place under a damp cloth and work with the base part.  Flatten it a little and lay it in the base of the pie pan. With your fingertips work it into the base and and up the sides of the pan, making sure it is evenly distributed and a little hangs over the edges. Press in half the meat mixture and place the eggs down the center. Fill with the remaining meat mixture. Roll out the remaining pastry for the lid. Cover the pie with the pastry and seal the edges. Use the pastry trimmings to decorate the top, then make one large whole in the center of the pie.

Bake for 1 ½ hours. If necessary, cover the pastry with foil towards the end of the cooking time to prevent over-browning. Leave to cool for 3-4 hours. Make up an aspic by dissolving the gelatin in the boiling stock. Cool for about 10 minutes. Pour the liquid aspic through the hole in the top of the pie. I usually use a small funnel to prevent the aspic spilling over the pastry.  Leave to stand at room temperature for about 1 hour before removing the pie from the pan. If you wait too long, the fat from the pastry will bind the pie to the pan.  If it does not come out easily, dip the pan in hot water for a few minutes.

Wrap the pie in a kitchen cloth and refrigerate.  Serve by cutting into ½ inch/1.25 cm slices. Each slice will have a nice roundel of egg in the center.  At home, serve this slice on a garnish of greens; at a picnic just pick it up and eat it with your hands.  I like mine with a dab of hot English mustard and a pickled onion, but plain is perfectly fine.  The combination of mace, bay, and lemon zest is astounding and needs no help.

Serves: 8-10