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!


Secure the last-ever £1 banknote to your collection!

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In 1984 it was announced the English £1 note would be completely phased out.

It’s now been 30 years since the humble £1 banknote ceased to be legal tender, having been gradually replaced by the £1 coin and fully removed from circulation in 1988.

£1 note

To remember this lost gem from the 80’s, we’ve put together 10 facts about our banknotes and coins;

1) The pound note was replaced by the pound coin and officially withdrawn from circulation in 1988.

2) Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was sceptical about the new coin which was first issued in 1983. She told MPs it was “not very popular” and believed the pound note would be retained.

3) The Royal Mint justified the logic behind replacing the £1 note with a coin: “The £1 note was in constant use on average lasting only nine months, whereas a coin can last as long as forty years and with the growth in the vending industry it was felt that a coin would be more useful.”

4) The first £10 note was issued in 1759 in response to gold shortages caused by the Seven Years War. The first £5 notes followed in 1793.

5) Five pounds was the lowest denomination in note form until 1797, when a series of runs on the Bank of England led to it issuing £1 and £2 notes.

6) Cashiers previously had the pain-staking task of filling in the name of the payee and signing each bank note individually. They were relieved of this duty after the first fully printed notes appeared in 1853.

7) Bank notes come in different ascending sizes, so the £5 note is smaller than the £10 which is smaller than the £20.

8) The withdrawal of the pound note in the 1980s was the biggest change to our currency since decimalisation in 1971.

9) The first £2 coin was issued in 1986 to commemorate the 13th Commonwealth Games being held in Scotland. The coin was not in general circulation until 1998.

10) The highest value note in circulation is £50. The most recent version is the first banknote to feature two Britons on the back – James Watt and Matthew Boulton.

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Own the Last English £1 Banknote

This £1 Banknote features the signature of the Chief Cashier at the time, D H F Somerset, and a portrait of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.

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