One of the most unsual ceremonial military duties of the British Army was the nightly piquet to protect the bank of England. This curious posting began in 1780 during the Gordon Riots when a small detachment of Foot Guards successfully defended the bank from a mob. After that the bank paid for a detachment of guards to defend the bank every evening for nearly two hundred years.
The soldiers left their barracks, originally the Tower of London, but later Wellington or Chelsea Barracks and marched through London to the Bank, in later years the Underground was used in bad weather. The picquet arrived at the bank at 3pm and comprised an officer, sergeant, corporal, lance corporal and eight privates. Two men were on guard at the sentry points in the Counting House Parlour and the Bullion Vault. Today’s postcard depicts the arrival of one of these picquets:
Dating this postcard is a little difficult as several variations exist of it, updated over the years to depict the changes in uniform, equipment and rifles carried. I think that these are meant to be No4 rifles so the postcard would date to the 1950s, but the same image with earlier weapons began to be published before World War One.
The men of the picquet were required to change out of their boots and into plimsols to protect the bank floor. The officer was given half a bottle of port a night and permission to invite a friend to share dinner with him in the bank. The other ranks were given a pint of beer each and one shilling per other rank and two for the sergeant to buy tea and cake in the canteen.
In 1963 the picquet changed to wear service dress and carry automatic weapons, emphsising security over ceremonial and the picquet was withdrawn completely in 1973.