Bitesize: The travels of Montagu Norman

Mike Anson, Georgina Green and Ryan Lovelock

Montagu Norman was the Bank of England’s longest serving Governor (1920-44) and one of the leading players on the interwar international financial stage. He was a controversial and enigmatic character who pioneered co-operation between central banks.

In his early period as Governor, Norman spent an increasing proportion of his time traveling as he developed a widespread network of bankers, financiers and politicians. This was at a time when international travel essentially meant boats and trains. In any case his wife Priscilla did not like him flying. His appointment diaries assiduously record the details of stations, train times, ports and ships. We have transcribed this information to create a dataset for the years 1920-39 which shows Norman travelled a total of 243,000 miles.

Frequent destinations in Europe were, unsurprisingly, Basel, Berlin and Paris. In addition he made annual trips to the East Coast of the United States and Canada. This meant long absences from the Bank – over the course of two decades nearly 20% of his time was spent abroad.

Norman played a crucial role in establishing the Bank for International Settlements (BIS). In 1930 he travelled nearly 30,000 miles largely in an effort to support this. He subsequently made regular visits to Basel for BIS Board meetings and fewer trips elsewhere. Critically this activity also helped to normalise contact between central bankers  at a time when the global political environment was increasingly hostile. Overall, the miles accumulated by Norman allowed the development and maintenance of a network of central banks that remains crucial today.

Mike Anson works in the Bank’s Archive, Georgina Green works in the Bank’s Macro-Financial Risks Division and Ryan Lovelock works in the Bank’s Advanced Analytics Division.

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