The U.K.'s main bank has been central to the British economy since 1694. Known for the past couple of centuries as "the Old Lady of Threadneedle Street," after the name appeared in a caption to a political cartoon (which can be seen in the museum), the bank manages the national debt and the foreign exchange reserves, issues banknotes, sets interest rates, looks after England's gold, and regulates the country's banking system. Sir John Soane designed the neoclassical hulk
in 1788, wrapping it in windowless walls, which are all that survives of his original building. The bank's history is traced in the Bank of England Museum (the entrance is around the corner on Bartholomew Lane), where interactive exhibits chart the bank's more recent history and offer the chance to try your hand at controlling inflation. But most visitors still make a beeline for the solid-gold bar that can be stroked and held in the central trading hall—before you get any ideas, there's security everywhere.