Although the first banknotes were issued in the UK as early as 1694, these tended to be created for the express purpose of settling bespoke debts, and as such weren’t used as everyday currency — much like we pay the odd amount with plastic these days!
In the 1970s, the Bank of England began to include famous historical figures on its banknotes; world-famous playwright William Shakespeare was the first to receive this treatment on the twenty-pound note of Series D, which was first issued in July 1970. He was joined a year later by the Duke of Wellington on the five-pound note. Florence Nightingale was the first woman to be commemorated on money when she appeared on the ten-pound note from February 1975.
We’re currently somewhere between the revised Series E and F of banknotes, with Edward Elgar replaced as the famous face on the twenty-pound note, by Scottish economist Adam Smith in 2007.
Within the next three years, both the five and ten-pound notes will be reissued with new figures — but who will they be? And who are they now?
The current portrayal on the five-pound note is that of Elizabeth Fry, who first appeared on our notes in 2002, and is celebrated for her role in reforming the country’s prisons.
Born in 1780, Fry was a firm believer in helping those in unfortunate circumstances, and dedicated her life to helping the sick and the poor. On a visit to Newgate Prison in London, she was moved by the conditions in which women and children were kept, and wrote a book entitled ‘Prisons in Scotland and the North of England’ to publicise them. Her tireless work led to a reform of the prison system.1
In 2016 Fry is to be replaced on the five-pound note by former Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who led Britain against the Axis forces during the Second World War and was also a celebrated history writer, winning the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1953 — facts which will be illustrated within the note’s new design.2 We wonder what the chances are that you’ll one day ask your mate to lend you “a Winston?“
Since November 2000 we’ve typically handed over the face of Charles Darwin in exchange for goods and services; which is ironic, since without Darwin’s work, we wouldn’t know what else separates us from the animals!
Darwin worked as a natural history researcher and geologist, whose five-year voyage aboard the HMS Beagle in the 1830s resulted in some ground-breaking discoveries and theories about human evolution. He wrote many books explaining his take on the animal kingdom and how it had adapted to survive throughout the years, introducing the concept of natural selection and causing much debate among fellow scholars. Darwin died in 1882; one of the world’s leading thinkers and still considered an authority on natural sciences today.3
In 2017 it’s expected that Jane Austen will replace Darwin on the £10 note; the seventeenth different historical figure to appear on our currency. The author of books including Sense & Sensibility and Pride & Prejudice will coincidentally have been gone for two hundred years by the time we come to see her visage on the tenner. Austen lived a relatively low-key life close to her family, with her first works published anonymously. Since then they’ve been hugely popular with critics and booksellers alike.4
The next time you’re at the cashpoint or getting your change, take a moment to think about the faces which adorn UK currency and admire their contributions to our society!
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