Ten years earlier in 1875, UK government records tell us there was 103 million pounds worth of Gold and 43 million pounds in banknotes in circulation. This posed logistical as well as security challenges for those with wealth, namely where to keep the family jewels.
The seeds of the Safe Deposit Box idea
The story of Safe Deposit starts in the new world of America in 1865, the Safe Deposit Company of New York was the first business of its kind its doors, offering customers the opportunity to rent one of its 500 safe deposit boxes, with the unheard-of ability for individual access. The real beginning took hold 4 years earlier in 1861, Linus Yale Jr, invented the first combination lock, a required pre-requisite for a working safe-deposit business. Over the next few decades, banks and many private companies across the world installed safe deposit boxes for their customers, it was during this growth period, that Chancery Lane Safe Deposit opened.
The Americans may have been starting signal for today’s Safe Deposit business, but we must turn once more back to the British, in fact, several hundred years before in the 1700s, where Goldsmiths offered the safekeeping of customer valuables in their much-fortified vaults. The missing element of the Goldsmith arrangement, customers were not entitled to go inside the vault. The idea was there, they simply did not have the idea and invention of individual lockable safe boxes.
Devaluation of Silver
During the last phase of Queen Victoria’s reign, the value of Silver tumbled as world production rose sharply, with new mines along with the demonetisation of Silver as a currency base in Germany, Scandinavia, and many other countries around the world, as they flipped over to the gold standard.
The Railway that made way for the London Silver Vaults & Hatton Garden
It is often a surprise when looking back in history, to discover inventions and services working in the past, that if presented today would positively appear next generation. Add then to that list, the 1869 London Pneumatic Underground Railway. A Victorian ere vacuum train, that could shuttle the post at up to 60mph across the city. At Great cost to build and with some high level of unreliability, it could also be argued the idea was ahead of its time, and like most things ahead of their time, they come to an untimely and often rapid end. The Pneumatic underground service was abandoned by the Post Office in 1874. But what happened next is key to our story.
Like the demise of all good ideas, another idea soon follows, one person’s loss is another person’s gain as one would say, and that is exactly what happened with the London Pneumatic Dispatch Companies stretch of tunnels between Holburn and Hatton Gardens. A group of London City businessmen approached and then purchased the tunnels for the purpose of building what would become an underground area for safe deposit storage in purpose-built and secure strong rooms, the area as we would know it today, of the London Silver Vaults on Chancery Lane.
Silver Vaults was not the 1st Safe Deposit Company in London
The Chancery Lane Deposit was not the first safe deposit business in London, that goes to the Safe Deposit Company Limited of 1872, who set up at 1 Queen Victoria Street, London. That particular business ran a booming trade for almost 100 years right up until the lease on their building expired, and today you will find a London Magistrates Court in its place.
The Chancery Lane Safe Deposit on Chancery Lane was the second safe deposit company in London, the 3rd being the Harrods Vault, by St James’s Safe Deposit Company.
The Strong Rooms of the Silver Vaults
During the Second World War, the building above the Silver vaults was badly damaged by the bombing, but the steel-lined and reinforced concrete walls, at some 1.2m thick, remained intact. Shortly after the war in 1953, the building above the vaults had significant work done to them and that is the layout that remains to the presents today.
The format today has remained the same for the past 50 years, with a collection of more than 40 family-owned silver shops occupying the underground complex. With specialists offering silver buying and selling services for niche segments of the Silverware market. It is thought the London Silver Vaults represents the largest concentration of silver shops in the world.
Not only Silver, the vaults also was home to the storage of deeds at one point.
The 7 Tonne Vault Door
Deep in the vaults can be found a timed vault door weighing a quite incredible 7 tonnes which they say is impossible to open outside of the business open hours. Never say never as they say.
The Rich and Famous
The Silver Vaults are open to the public to see, on the walls can be seen many records of well-known visitors, Pianist Liberace purchasing his candelabra, and Anthony Armstrong Jones in the heyday of his relationship with Princess Margaret perhaps purchasing equally handsome items, with one store with a photo of Princess Diana.
It’s free to the public to browse. No photos. They have a water fountain entry hall lounge area just before the shopping area starts. Check website for details
The London Silver Vaults today
The Silver Vaults today offer present hunters of Silverware and jewelry and Aladins cave of choices. The Vaults offer a subterranean network of stores under one roof. Dealers offer valuation, repairs, buying, and selling in Georgian, Victorian, Art Nouveau, and Art Deco silver and more modern offerings.
Opening times: Mon – Fri – 9am – 5.30pm Sat 9am- 1pm
Where is the London Silver Vaults?
LONDON WC2A 1QS