Generous fare has always formed part of the culture of Hoare’s. The bank’s oldest household accounts prove it. In August 1720, Hoare’s resident housekeeper paid twenty-three pounds and eighteen shillings for two heifers and twenty sheep – all to be salted down for the coming winter. Among other purchases recorded in the account books are flour, sugar, sides of bacon, Florence and Malabar wines, drinking chocolate and cowslip tea. In the days of ‘Henry the Magnificent’ (1705-85), the bank employed a cook, a butler and three housemaids. By then, regional delicacies were regularly on the shopping list: Epping butter, Durham mustard, Wiltshire ham, Gloucester cheese, and all manner of greengrocery from broccoli to gooseberries.1
Some of this abundance was destined for the bank’s clerks, who had their own dining room. The partners of the Victorian and Georgian eras believed that a well-fed clerk was likely to be a good clerk. That thinking still informs catering at 37 Fleet Street, where breakfast and lunch are provided to staff. Partners, too, gather daily in their dining room overlooking Fleet Street. These days, the main event is lunch, but in the middle years of the twentieth century ‘breakfast was absolutely the best of all’, according to Caromy Hoare whose husband, Henry C Hoare, became a partner in 1959. ‘No-one spoke much, they just grunted at each other. Each would lift up the huge silver covers to see what was on offer – kippers on a Wednesday, and best-in-the-world fishcakes on Fridays.’2
Maybe not at the wordless breakfasts, but a great deal of useful business will have been done down the years round the partners’ table. In a family concern like Hoare’s, the dining room functions as a kind of ideas laboratory, a place where the newcomers learn by listening in on the conversations of more experienced heads, and where senior partners can get to know the character and the individual skills of the newer members of the board.
And when customers are invited in, as they often are, the bank’s dining rooms become a genial business forum. Visitors have the opportunity to say what they think of the bank, while the partners can respond and find out more about what customers want from them. Everyone benefits from the soft power that is wrapped up in the crust of a beef Wellington, or baked into a gratin de cèpes.
But there is a world beyond the bank and its customers. During the coronavirus pandemic, when bank staff were working from home, the bank’s catering team instead cooked meals for The Passage, a voluntary sector day-care centre for the homeless and the vulnerable.
It’s interesting to note that the words ‘bank’ and ‘banquet’ come from the same root. Both derive from the old Italian word banca, meaning a table. The rough bench where a medieval lombard exchanged money was the same trestle board where he sat down to eat with his family or with clients. So the notion of sound finance and good food have always been linked – and nowhere more so than at Hoare’s.
1 All this detail drawn from Pamela Hunter, Through The Years Vol.2, 2018
2 Elwyn Wood and Martin Coleman, The History of Catering at C. Hoare and Co.