Dressed to watch over the Old Lady: In the first in a series on City uniforms, Topaz Amoore writes from the Bank of England's gate

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RAY WOOD, who retired as the senior gatekeeper at the Bank of England just before Christmas, considered himself part-diplomat, part-security guard. He was at the Bank for 37 years, of which 13 were spent on the front gate.

'We are the first people that the public see when they come into the Bank. We have to be tactful, but we are also an integral part of the security force.'

The gatekeeper's uniform, worn since about 1697, leans more to the finery of a diplomat than the gun-metal grey favoured by modern security firms.

Dusty pink tails that clash deliciously with a bright red waistcoat; silver buttons stamped with the image of Britannia; a black silk top hat rimmed with gold braid, and unexpectedly sombre black trousers comprised Mr Wood's workwear, which he wore four days a week.

The origin of the uniform, with its adventurous colour scheme, is thought to have been the personal house livery of Sir John Houblon who, from 1694, was the Bank of England's first governor. Up to eight doorkeepers wear the uniform.

On Thursdays, when the Court of the directors of the Bank of England sits at noon, and for 'VIP days', Mr Wood would move into the ceremonial uniform designed in 1694, when it cost 15 guineas to make.

The ankle-length crimson cloak with a bright orange lining, trimmed with black velvet, is tufted with gold braid. His bamboo staff of office (made only in 1749) is topped with a solid silver ball engraved with a fading message.

'The Queen Mother,' muses Mr Wood, 'pulled this staff towards her and read the inscription without her glasses on, which is more than I can do.'

He wore the ceremonial robes during the celebrations for the 800th anniversary of the Lord Mayoralty of London. Then, representing the Bank and its Governor, he became the first lay person to read a lesson at St Paul's cathedral. 'The Dutch queen caused a lot of merriment and mirth. She said I was beautiful. I think she meant what I was wearing.'

(Photograph omitted)