Dividend Day

I was looking for something else, of course, something about the Bank of England in 1860 that I could use in my fourth mystery, Murder at the Gasworks. My tome for this is The City of London, Volume I by David Kynaston. And in it I found a description of something at the Bank called Dividend Day, as noted by David Morier Evans in 1845. He anonymously wrote a book that Kynaston relies on quite a bit, The City; or, the Physiology of London Business; with sketches on ‘Change, and at the Coffee Houses. He described an old man with a wooden leg sitting all day waiting for his dividend.

[An aside: I’ve learned a bit about the coffee houses in the City, especially Garraway’s, which was near the Exchange (the ‘Change). Some actually served coffee during the day. Garraway’s at one point was a wine place, and it laid out sandwiches sliced up on a side counter for lunch. Many of the coffee houses used their ground floor as exchanges where products like coffee and tea were bought in bulk. Some kept collections of all the newspapers, which could become large archives. Deacon’s Coffee House kept files with every issue of the Times, so I’ve set a scene where my detective goes there to do research and overhears something interesting.]

So, the Bank. I search for “dividend day bank of england” and find this artwork:

George Elgar Hicks created this in 1859, the year before my novel, and it looks like fun. All those different kinds of people at the Bank! The dog! The child! I know they aren’t just customers, because the Bank of England wasn’t that kind of bank. They didn’t take ordinary deposits and they didn’t pay interest. So what is Dividend Day, anyway?

Evans describes the scene:

At least fifty clerks are sitting in a circle in a high vaulted saloon, well provided with a cupola and lanterns. They do nothing whatever but pay and weigh, and weigh and pay. On all sides, the rattling of gold, as they push it with little brass shovels across the tables. People elbowing and pushing in order to get a locus standi near the clerks; the doors are continually opening and shutting.

It turns out that it was the way for ordinary people to invest in the Bank of England and the government. According to the National Trust, “‘Consols’, as the Consolidated Government Annuities yielding an unvarying interest of 3% per annum were known, were the only investment permitted to the trustees of widows, orphans, and the like…” Even these days, I can see why people would be excited about 3%.

Kynaston says this was a half-yearly event, but in trying to find the exact date for 1860, I discovered it was more likely quarterly. Why is the date important? Because my book takes place between June 9, when Eliza Feltham stole doilies from Lady Emily Peel’s table at the Crystal Palace, and July 9, when she was tried at the Old Bailey*. I’d love to have a scene take place during Dividend Day and yes, as near as I could tell, this was always on July 5.

There is a subplot about a spy in the Bank, you see, so this will fit.

* Both Lady Emily Peel and Eliza Feltham were real people, and these were real events