In for a penny: DBR’s Restoration of the Bank of England Toilets

In for a penny: DBR’s Restoration of the Bank of England Toilets

Leading UK conservation specialist, DBR (London) Ltd, repairs historic marble urinal and sink within the Grade I listed Bank of England

The Bank of England is the central bank of the United Kingdom and the model on which most modern central banks have been based. Sometimes nicknamed ‘the Old Lady of Threadneedle Street’ after a 1797 satirical cartoon by artist James Gillray, the Bank’s founding dates back over 300 years to 1694.

As its nickname may suggest, the Bank’s architectural history begins with its 18th-century premises on the site of Governor Sir John Houblon’s home on Threadneedle Street. This building, home of the Bank from 1734 until today, was designed by little-known architect George Sampson.

Works undertaken to expand the Bank’s buildings continued throughout the 18th and 19th centuries as business took off. It culminated with resident Architect and Surveyor Sir John Soane’s surrounding of the 3.25-acre site with an immense curtain wall in 1828.

By the 1920s, it was clear that the Bank needed to scale up to larger premises, with Sir Herbert Baker engaged as the architect for a complete demolition and rebuilding of the Bank.

The rebuilding featured limestone from the Hopton Wood quarry in Derbyshire for the interior; Portland stone for the exterior and bronze for the external and internal doors and window frames in all public areas.

The reconstruction also included the preservation of two of the building’s original 18th-century rooms – the Court Room and the Committee Room.

The new building, which remains standing today, was completed in 1939.

As expected over a near century’s worth of footfall and regular usage, the interiors had suffered some wear and tear. A less glamorous, but essential part of the building, its toilets, were in desperate need of a refresh.

Wanting to preserve the historic fabric of the Bank’s original facilities, whilst giving them a modern upgrade, DBR’s team of highly skilled conservators was tasked with the repair works of the historic marble urinal and sink.

The upfront challenge was an extremely tight timeframe of three weeks to complete the work, coupled with the location of the repair work within close proximity to the still-functioning Bank. This meant DBR conservators had to tread carefully, putting health and safety precautions in place. This included regular monitoring of dust and air pollution levels, especially as the acrylic resin used to repair the ceramic fixtures omits potentially hazardous fumes.

A wee piece of history

The project, painstakingly undertaken by DBR’s Head Conservator Paolo Volpi, included the cleaning of silicon and limescale on both fixtures.

The urinal, built of very hard ceramic, also required the manual cleaning of rust stains from aged metal components, using a poultice, as well as the cleaning of its surrounding marble mount.

Additional repairs were also carried out using special ceramic resin, followed by the re-enamelling and repainting of the whole inside of the urinal.

A further challenge was that the previous flush system was completely worn and needed to be replaced. Wanting to retain the original copper material of the historic system, DBR metal workers re-created a custom-made copper flush inside the ceramic chamber of the urinal.

Cracks in the surface

The washbasin was badly cracked, requiring emergency repair work to restore the sink to its former glory.

The job was complicated by the presence of previous repairs using fibreglass, which needed to be fixed by installing new stainless-steel staples. The small, u-shaped brackets effectively held together the fibreglass, while resin repairs were carried out to the inside of the sink to keep the pieces together.

Enamel retouching was also carried out on both fixtures to ensure a pristine finish on which the building’s bankers felt proud to spend a penny or two throughout the day.

Commenting on the project, DBR’s Executive Director, Adrian Attwood said, “The proof is in the privy with this project, with the historic bathroom fixtures, which had certainly seen better days, restored to their former sparkling glory. Using a range of tried and tested techniques, DBR’s team painstakingly carried out the necessary cleaning and repairs by hand, navigating around previously attempted repairs to the utilities.

“It’s a massive testament to the team’s agility that they were able to achieve exemplary results in such a short timeframe, not least that all the work had to be carried out with minimal disturbance to the Head of the Bank’s office, located right next door.”

To find out more about DBR’s award-winning heritage conservation work click here.

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