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Myths and Legends
Your Story: The Bank of England Printing Works

The first fully printed notes were issued in 1855, an event which brought relief to the bank's team of cashiers, who no longer had to sign each note individually. In 1916 the Bank purchased the St Luke's Hospital for poor lunatics in Old Street, which had closed, and converted the building into the St Luke's Printing Works. Production of bank notes remained there for 40 years, until a decision was taken in the early 1950s to develop a new site on the banks of the river Roding at Debden, Loughton, in Essex, some 14 miles from the City of London. The new factory, designed by Easton & Robertson and built by Sir Robert McAlpine & Sons Ltd, opened in October 1956. The building is about 800ft long, with the main printing hall 125ft wide and vaulted by an irregular, very effective curve. The whole vault is of concrete and glass and conveys a sense of the grandest spaciousness [Pevsner]. The notes are now produced at Loughton by Debden Security Printing Ltd, a subsidiary of De La Rue Plc, and are a product of a highly developed form of mass production combining state-of-the-art technology and quality craftsmanship. The aim at every stage of production is to ensure that the note is as difficult as possible to counterfeit. Each note takes a great deal of research with the design team combining traditional and modern methods. Portraits and other illustrations begin as pencil and ink drawings. The background is developed with intricate geometric patterns using Computer Aided design (CAD). The portrait of HM The Queen is engraved by hand. When finished, the design is duplicated many times onto printing plates ready for the presses. The specialised inks used to produce the notes number approximately 85 for the four denominations. The paper for Bank of England notes is made specially for the Bank by Portals. It is manufacture from cotton, which gives it its crisp, distinctive feel and increases its toughness and durability. The watermark and security thread, are incorporated into the paper as it is made. The finished parcels of notes are held in store at the Bank's Cash Centres in Debden and Leeds. They are then collected by the commercial banks for distribution to their branches. When notes that have been in the hands of the public are too dirty or damaged for further circulation they are returned to the Bank for destruction. Until 1990, these unfit banknotes were incinerated at Debden and the heat generated was used to supplement the heating at the site. However, it was decided that it would be more cost effective and environmentally friendly if notes were shredded on site rather than burnt.

[Information in this article is in part from a Bank of England Fact Sheet, use of which is gratefully acknowledged]

Words: Richard Morris

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