The History of the UK Banknote…

The UK banknotes have gone through some big changes since they were first introduced but do you know the story behind them?

In this blog, we guide you through the history of UK banknotes as we take a look at just how far they’ve come…

7th Century – China

The first recorded use of ‘paper’ money was in China back in the seventh century! However, it was until over a thousand years later that paper money made its way to Europe.

16th Century – Goldsmith-Bankers

In the 16th century, the goldsmith-bankers would issue receipts for cash, known as ‘running cash notes’. They were made out in the name of the depositor and also carried the words, ‘or bearer’, after the name of the depositor.

This similar phrase still appears on British banknotes today: “I promise to pay the bearer on demand the sum of…”

1694 – Bank of England

When the Bank of England was established in 1694 to raise money for King William III’s war effort, they issued notes in exchange for deposits. These were the first recorded bank notes to feature a cashier’s signature!

18th Century – Fixed Denominations

The issuing of fixed denomination notes first started in the 18th century. Notes were printed with the pound sign and the first digit included, but any following digits were then added by hand!

By 1745, notes were issued in denominations ranging from £20 to £1,000 but it wasn’t until 1759, as a result of gold shortages caused by the seven years of war, that a £10 note was issued.

The £5 note followed in 1793 at the start of the war against Revolutionary France and by 1797 the £1 and £2 notes were issued.

1853- Fully Printed

In 1853, the first fully printed banknotes were introduced, meaning hand-written denominations on notes were phased out.

Early 20th Century – 10 Shilling Note

During the First World War, the link between notes and gold was broken. The government needed to preserve bullion stocks and so the Bank stopped paying out gold for its notes.

In 1914 the Treasury printed and issued 10 shilling and £1 notes and in 1931, Britain left the gold standard.

Late 20th Century – Feature of Historical Figures

The late 20th century saw the first introduction of historical figures on the designs of UK banknotes. Since 1970, we’ve seen figures including scientist Isaac Newton, composer Edward Elgar and nurse Florence Nightingale featured on our banknotes.

21st Century – Polymer notes and BAME figures

In the 21st century we have seen the introduction of the polymer £5, £10 and £20 banknote, as a cleaner, safer and stronger alternative to the paper notes.

These notes have become incredibly popular with collectors, with some polymer £20 notes fetching far over their face value on the secondary market!

However, a lack of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) figures being recognised on legal tender led to campaigning for greater inclusivity in 2020.

These campaigns come after Chancellor Rishi Sunak stated he was considering proposals from a campaign group. He has since asked the Royal Mint to come up withnew designs honouring BAME figures who have served the nation – such as military figures and nurses.

Whilst details of these figures and designs remain under consideration, we look forward to hearing more as the story unfolds.

Did you know how far back in history our banknotes date? Let us know in the comments below!

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Why the new Northern Ireland Banknote is turning heads…

Ulster Bank has recently revealed plans to print an innovative, new design for vertical banknotes which will be entering circulation in Northern Ireland next year.

This turn of events breaks the mould for UK currency, with the Bank of England first issuing banknotes in 1694 to a landscape rather than portrait alignment.

Whilst the banks of Northern Ireland have traditionally issued their own money, only once before has a note like this ever been printed in the UK, during 1999 when The Northern Bank issued a vertical polymer note to mark the millennium.

It featured an illustration of the Space Shuttle on one side and stopped being issued in 2008 when they reverted to the standard landscape paper notes, however the note can still be used today. 

Northern Bank vertical polymer £5 note from 1999. Credit:


Ulster Bank plans to follow in the steps of the Bank of England by replacing their current paper currency with polymer £5 and £10 notes.

However, this new design goes to the next level, not only updating the material but also changing the entire orientation of the note.

Northern Ireland’s new banknotes will be based on the theme “living in nature” with Strangford Lough in County Down and Brent Geese featuring on the £5 note and Lough Erne in County Fermanagh, the Irish hare and Guelder-rose shrubs featuring on the £10.


New vertical Northern Ireland Banknote to enter circulation next year. Credit BBC News


Switzerland’s first vertical banknotes entered circulation in 1995 and for the past two years have won the “Bank Note of the Year Award” as voted for by members of The International Bank Note Society (IBNS).

Earlier this year Canada introduced their first ever vertical banknotes, hoping to create more space for a bigger image and to set it apart from existing polymer bills. Their 10 dollar note is currently nominated for Banknote of the Year 2018.

Bermuda, Israel, Venezuela, Argentina and Cape Verde are among other countries to use vertical banknotes in their currency.

These banknotes may be easier to use at cash and vending machines and may make it clearer to see the notes in your wallet, but what are your thought on this change in design and would you like the Bank of England to follow suit? Let us know in the comments below!




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