Esoteric London

No. 505: St. Mary-at-Hill, EC3

Posted in London Places by esotericlondon on February 3, 2012

St. Mary-at-Hill, London, EC3. Photo © Roger Dean 2012

Saunterings in and about London – Max Schlesinger, 1853:

We enter another large room [in the Bank of England], with the neatest, prettiest steam-engine in it, and with a variety of other small machines whose complicated wheels are kept in motion by the said engine. The bulkiest object in the room is a large table, literally covered with mountains of sovereigns. A few officials, with shovels in their hands, are stirring the immense glittering mass.
“It is here that they weigh the sovereigns,” whispers our guide. We stand and watch the process. Ignorant as we are of the exact principles of the machines, we are altogether startled by their fabulous activity.
Besides the mysterious system of wheels within wheels, each of these marvels displays an open square box, and in this box, slanting in an angle of 300 [degrees], two segments of cylinders, with the open part turned upwards. A roll of sovereigns, placed into one of these tubes, passes slowly down, and one gold piece after the other drops into a large box on the floor.
All the clerks have to do is to fill the tubes. The sovereigns slide down, but just at the lower end of the tube the miracle is accomplished. Whenever a sovereign of less than full weight touches that ticklish point, a small brass plate jumps up from some hidden corner, and pushes the defaulter into the left-hand compartment of the box, while all the good pieces go to the right. This little brass plate, hiding where it does, and popping out at intervals to note a bad sovereign, is an impertinent, ironi­cal, malicious thing. There is an air of republicanism about it. As to the sharpness of its criticism, we actually do not believe that any republican would attempt to compete with it. For who would estimate the virtues of his fellow-men by grains, especially in the law of crowned heads!
We cannot see enough of these active machines. The small plates of brass show themselves pretty often as old and worn out sovereigns glide down. Not one of them is allowed to pass and withal these small plates act with so much quiet promptitude and calm energy, and altogether without noise or pretension.
One of the clerks is kind enough to explain the purpose of this process.
“The Bank selects the full weighted sovereigns from the light ones, because all the money we pay out must have its full weight.”
‘And what do you do with the light ones?”
“We send them to the Mint after we have taken the liberty of marking them. Shall I show you how we do it?”
He takes a handful of the condemned ones, and puts them into a box, which has the appearance of a small barrel-organ. He turns a screw, or touches a spring—it is clearly impossible to note each movement of the man’s hand—and there is a sound­ing and rushing noise in the interior of the box, and all the sovereigns fall out from a slit at the bottom. But mercy on us! how dreadfully disfigured they are! Cut through in the middle. The Victorias, and Williams, and Georges, all cut through their necks, in fact, beheaded!

[ The above photograph is of one of two heads set into the wall of the forecourt cum car park of 32 St. Mary-at-Hill. There is no indication of where they were originally situated and no sign of their limbs or torsos.

For more on the Bank of England see post No. 57 and for more on beheadings see post No. 125. R.D.]

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