Enjoy unlimited access: just £1 for 12 weeks

Subscribe now

That date is wrong – somebody put the date onto the internet a while ago and it is hard to get it corrected because it keeps being repeated!

It actually opened in May 1885 and the Lord Mayor of London and a great many local dignitaries from the City of London, together with all the MPs from surrounding constituencies, attended the opening banquet and made grand speeches.

As the Morning Post of May 8, 1885, wrote: “Yesterday evening the Lord Mayor inaugurated in Chancery-lane a new Safe Deposit, which has been constructed by Mr. Thomas Clarke in the base of the recently-erected chambers known as New Stone Buildings.

“The numerous improvements by which the quaint but tortuous thoroughfare fitly designated as Chancery-lane is gradually being transformed into a handsome street of almost palatial houses have deservedly attracted attention by their recent progress, and not the least noticeable among them is the block of buildings alluded to, which cover an area of about 75,000 superficial feet, and have been erected by Mr. Clarke.

“Quite an imposing feature is added to their elevation by the entrance to the Safe Deposit from the street under a handsome archway of polished red granite, which conceals a strong portcullis. The broad staircase leading to the strong rooms, which are, however, but a few feet below the level of the pavement, is paved with white marble and mosaic, with a balustrade on either side of pure marble, and the roof above is panelled with enamelled iron or artistic design. The walls also are lined with coloured marbles, and the dado is of grand antique.

“As one descends the staircase two appropriate mottoes present themselves in mosaic patterns – Safe bind, safe find, and Early and provident fear is the mother of safety.”

The Safe Deposit was considered so safe that the Cullinan diamond was stored there before being given by the government of South Africa to the king in 1907. The building above ground was destroyed by a firebomb in the Second World War but the underground safes remained largely intact.

There is an excellent exhibition at the London Metropolitan Archives currently, Underground London, which includes an interesting print of the old stairs into the Chancery Lane Safe Deposit. In fact, the archives hold a lot of material relating to the history of the Safe Deposit within the Chubb archive.

Peter Cameron

Vaults 54-57,

The London Silver Vaults