Charles Dickens’ penny savings bank up for sale

Grand financial institution sure to be a hit in trendy Clerkenwell

BUILDINGS that do business usually stay that way. It used to be rare for people to live in old offices and factories, but now many more are coming onto the market as agents take advantage of the residential boom.

“I certainly have never come across a bank that’s been turned into a house,” says Paul Williams, head of estate agent Savills in Islington. “Old banks are normally snapped up by the commercial sector and they’re turned into new bars and offices.”

And 18 and a Half Sekforde Street in the heart of Clerkenwell is no ordinary bank. Formerly the Finsbury Bank for Savings, it has been retitled The Bank and it was designed by Alfred Bartholomew, a student of the great English architect Sir John Soane, and it was frequented by Oliver Twist author Charles Dickens. It was built in 1816 as one of many “penny-savings” banks in and around the City at the time. They were established at the start of the 19th century as safe havens for small savers to put their money. They were used to encourage the low-paid working poor to save and avoid the indignity of entering the workhouse, while in other parts of the country, insurance companies began offering policies to cover the death of someone in the family for the first time.

The seven-bedroom, four-storey house occupies the bank in its entirety and is flanked on either side by Georgian terraces that have remained largely unchanged, on the outside at least, for nearly two centuries.

“In my 27 years working in property, I don’t think I have ever seen a property quite like this one,” says Williams.

It was converted into a private residence in 2002 by a family who were originally looking for a house in prime central London, but found they could get more bank for their buck in Clerkenwell. Since then, the area has blossomed into a bustling district known for its wide range of bars and restaurants – from Michelin-starred to gastropubs – and boutique shops. City workers can walk to work, or the West End, and its popularity can only increase with the arrival of Crossrail.

The house, however, has been classically furnished with the building’s high, ornate ceilings in mind. It still has working shutters, ornate plasterwork, a grand curved staircase, antique cast iron radiators, stone or maple floors throughout and period marble chimney pieces.

The Grade II-listed bank was built to impress its wealthy, metropolitan customers. It was designed as a Renaissance Palazzo, with arched windows, Corinthian columns and a walled courtyard garden.

This is The Bank’s fifth week on the market but Williams says two couples, one from abroad, and another from London, are already “threatening to put in an offer.” Let’s hope they need a lot of bedrooms.

The Bank is on sale with Savills Islington for £8m. To view the property, call 020 7226 1313