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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Basingstoke 

  • NatWest, 3 London Street, Old Market Square, Basingstoke, RG21 7NS

Bath

  • HSBC, 41 Southgate, Bath, BA1 1TN
  • NatWest, 8-9 Quiet Street, Bath, BA1 2JN

Birmingham 

  • HSBC, 130 New Street, Birmingham, B2 4JU 
  • Lloyds Bank, 36-38 New Street, Birmingham, B2 4LP 
  • NatWest, 144 New Street, Birmingham, B2 4NY 
  • Santander, Unit 6, Caxton Gate, Corporation Street, Birmingham, B2 4LP 
  • TSB, 134 New Street, Birmingham, B2 4NS 
  • Virgin Money, Temple Point, 1 Temple Row, Birmingham, B1 5YB

Bradford 

  • Santander, 9 Nelson Street, Bradford, BD1 5AN 

Bristol

  • Eurochange, Cribbs Causeway, Bristol, BS34 5QT

Cwmbran

  • NM Money, 15 South Walk, Cwmbran, NP44 1PU

Edinburgh

  • TSB, 28 Hanover Street, Edinburgh, EH2 2DS 

Leeds 

  • HSBC, 33 Park Row, Leeds, LS1 1LD 
  • Santander, PR Work Café, 10-12 Park Row, Leeds, LS1 5HD 
  • Yorkshire Bank, 94-96 Briggate, Leeds, LS1 6NP

Leicester 

  • Santander, Carlton Park, King Edward Avenue, Narborough, Leicester, LE19 0AL 

Liverpool 

  • Santander, 45 Lord Street, Liverpool, L2 6PB 
  • TSB, 81-83 Lord Street, Liverpool, L2 6PG

London 

  • Barclays, 2 Churchill Place, Canary Wharf, London, E14 5RB 
  • Barry’s Food & Wine, 149 Hoxton Street, London, N1 6PJ
  • HSBC, 165 Fleet Street, London, EC4A 2DY 
  • Halifax, 118-132 New Oxford Street, London, WC1A 1HL 
  • NatWest, 1 Princes Street, London, EC2R 8BP 
  • NatWest, 34 Henrietta Street, London, WC2E 8NL 
  • NatWest, 10 Southwark Street, London, SE1 1TJ 
  • Post Office, 52 Blackfriars Road, London, SE1 8NN 
  • Post Office, 39-41 Farringdon Road, London, EC1M 3JB 
  • Post Office, 11 White Kennet Street, Houndsditch, London, E1 7BS 
  • Post Office, 19a Borough High Street, London, SE1 9SF 
  • Post Office, 125-131 Westminster Bridge Road, London, SE1 7HJ 
  • Santander, 48-54 Moorgate, London, EC2R 6EJ 
  • Santander, 164-167 Tottenham Court Road, London, W1T 7JE 
  • Santander, 2 Triton Square, Regents Place, London, NW1 3AN 
  • The Cooperative Food, 185 Old Street, Shoreditch, London, EC1V 9NP 
  • TSB, 55 Bow Bells House, Cheapside, London, EC2V 6AT 
  • Virgin Money, 154-158 Kensington High Street, London, W8 7RL

Manchester

  • Lloyds Bank, 42-46 Market Street, Manchester, M1 1PW 
  • NatWest, 1 Hardman Blvd, Manchester, M3 3AQ 
  • TSB, 21 Market Street, Manchester, M1 1WR 

Margate 

  • Santander, 110-112 High Street, Margate, Kent, CT9 1JR 

Milton Keynes 

  • Santander, 201 Grafton Gate East, Milton Keynes, MK9 1AN

Newcastle 

  • Santander, 112-118 Northumberland Street, Newcastle, NE1 7DG 

Salford

  • Barclays, Unit 2 Blue, MediaCityUK, Salford, M50 2AD 
  • Lowry Outlet Mall, The Lowry Designer Outlet, Salford Quays, M50 3AH

Sheffield 

  • Post Office, 12 Ellesemere Road, Sheffield, S4 7JB 
  • Yorkshire Bank, Fargate, Sheffield, S1 1LL

Swindon 

  • Nationwide, Nationwide House, Pipers Way, Swindon, SN3 1TA 

Wales 

  • Post Office, 56-58 Oxford Street, Mountain Ash, Mid Glamorgan, CF45 3HB 
  • Santander, 5-7 Queen Street, Cardiff, South Glamorgan, CF10 2AF

This weekend, the Bank of England confirmed that the £50 note will remain part of UK currency and a new batch will be issued after the £20 note in 2020 following a public nomination process to select potential characters to appear on it.

In keeping with the new £5 and £10 polymer notes, the £50 will also be printed on thin, flexible plastic polymer material, making them cleaner, safer and stronger.

In September 2016, the first polymer £5 note featuring Winston Churchill entered circulation in the UK. Its success lead to the Jane Austen £10 polymer note being released the following year and plans for the first polymer £20 note featuring artist JMW Turner to be issued in 2020. It will be down to the public to decide who should appear on the new £50 notes, so who would you nominate? 

£20 concept image. Credit: Bank of England.

The £50 note was first introduced in 1981 and there are now 330 million in circulation, totalling a combined value of £16.5 billion!

Recently there have been fears that £50 notes are being used for criminal activity such as tax evasion and are rarely used for standard purchases. However, the Treasury has said that this new batch of polymer notes has been designed to be more secure and harder to forge, meaning that they are here to stay.

2011 £50 note. Credit: Bank of England.

They will also be more durable and environmentally friendly than their predecessors, lasting roughly 2.5 times longer than paper notes.

Sarah John, the Bank’s Chief Cashier, said: “I’m very excited to be starting the process of introducing a new £50 note. At the Bank, we are committed to providing the public with high quality notes they can use with confidence. Moving the £50 note onto polymer is an important next step to ensure that we can continue to do that.”

What are your thoughts on the £50 note and who would you like to see feature on the next polymer batch? Let us know in the comments below!


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