Is This London's Most Beautiful Bank?

By Londonist Last edited 60 months ago
Is This London's Most Beautiful Bank?

Note: as of 14 August 2017, this branch is closed. We hope there will still be opportunities for the public to visit.

When thinking of London's most beautiful interiors, churches, townhouses and civic buildings spring to mind.

Bank branches usually don't.

So it's a treat to wander along the Strand 9-5 and discover, at no. 222, London's most beautiful bank branch.

The lobby.
Detail of the ornamental fountain in the lobby.
Decorative ironwork over the lobby entrance. The beehive is a symbol for workers.

Since 1612 the site had been occupied by the Palsgrave Head Tavern, a favourite haunt of the playwright Ben Johnson, and named after Frederick Palsgrave who married Princess Elizabeth, James I's daughter.

The Palsgrave Arms just inside the lobby.
Portrait of Ben Johnson, playwright, who used to come here when it was the Palsgrave Tavern.

The Tavern was demolished in 1883 to make way for the Royal Courts of Justice Restaurant (The Royal Courts of Justice having been completed over nine years and finished in 1882). The restaurant was designed by Goymour Cuthbert and William Wimble, who had previously designed the Baltic Exchange (the stained glass of which is now in the National Maritime Museum).

Despite its sumptuous interior, the restaurant wasn't a success, and failed to attract lawyers and clients from over the road. It closed after three years and remained unoccupied until 1895, when it was converted into a Lloyds bank branch.

Described by the Penny Illustrated Paper as "the handsomest and most elegant bar bank in London" the lobby feels like a decorative church, complete with ornamental fountains at each end and tiles (from the Royal Doulton company of toilet fame) depicting flora and fauna.

Automatic doors leading from the lobby.
Royal Doulton tiles inside the main bank.
Details of the decorative mosaics and tiling on the lobby.

But the best piece of trivia — printed on an information sheet inside — is the claim that the original dining room was ventilated by a pair of women riding a tandem bicycle, which powered a huge pair of bellows. As ludicrous as this sounds, a bicycle-like piece of equipment was found during refurbishments, connected to the pipework!

Read more of Katie Wignall's explorations at Look Up London.

Last Updated 14 August 2017