The Bank of England issues plastic £5 notes

Tuesday sees the Bank of England issuing the first in the range of plastic bank notes which will begin the process of phasing out paper money forever.

The first note to be issued with be the £5 note and will see Sir Winston Churchill on one side of Fivers whilst the Queen will keep her traditional place on the other side of the note.

30 countries currently use Polymer-based notes, primarily but not entirely, those in hotter climates which  impacts on the lifespan of paper money.  The new notes released by the Bank of England will feature the most advanced anti-fraud measure of any money on the planet and illustrates just what a big change has taken place in the 320 years since the Bank commenced printing paper money.

Manufactured from a transparent plastic film and coated with an ink layer,polymer banknotes are seen as cleaner, more durable and more secure than paper. The material allows the inclusion of clear “windows” to protect against counterfeits.  Additionally, the money is expected to last 2.5 times longer and no longer degrade when accidentally put through a washing machine.

Last year, 21,835 notes were replaced due to damage – 5,364 of those were chewed or eaten, mostly by dogs but one was ruined by a parrot.

Sir Winston Churchill features on the new Polymer £5 note.

Sir Winston Churchill features on the new Polymer £5 note.


Churchill will be featured alongside a view of Westminster with Big Ben showing a time of 3 o’clock which is the approximate time on 13 May 1940 when Churchill declared in a speech: “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat.”

Jane Austen will appear on Polymer £10 notes in 2017 and by 2020, the artist JMW Turner will be on the £20.  There is currently no time frame set for the replacement of paper £50 notes.

Sir Winston’s strong leadership qualities during the Second World War earned him a vast international following, particularly in the United States where he was granted honorary US citizenship.

He has been portrayed on the postage stamps of 150 nations with this particular depiction being based on the famous photo taken by photographer Yousuf Karsh

During his lifetime, Sir Winston received 37 orders, decorations and medals including Companion of Honour, Order of Merit, Order of the Garter and in 1953 the Nobel Prize for literature.

He died at the age of 90, on January 24, 1965, and was given a state funeral. Sir Winston was also the first commoner to be portrayed on a British coin – the 1965 crown or five shilling piece.

The first paper money appeared in 11th Century China with the Song Dynasty and came to prominence soon afterwards by The Mongols who used it across their empire.

It was Norway who first used paper money in Europe but the newly created Bank of England was quick to follow as King William III needed money for his war against France.   Initially deposits of gold would be left with the bank and a hand written note issued by a chief Cashier would declare “I promise to pay the bearer on demand the sum of …”  which in effect guaranteed the note against gold.


Bank of England £1 note from 1825


In the old days notes would be issued to any value but in the 18th century, it became increasingly the standard practice to issue standard values such as £20.  The guarantee to pay the bearer in gold ended in 1931 and now the notes are guaranteed against Securities rather than gold itself.

The old fiver, featuring prison reformer Elizabeth Fry, can still be used in shops until it is withdrawn from circulation in May 2017 but can still be exchanged for the polymer notes at the Bank of England afterwards.

Initially when paper notes were introduced, it afforded great potential for criminals to trick people out of their riches.  As most people were so poor that they could go their entire life without ever seeing even a small value note, it was easy to trick people out of their piles of gold and silver coins for a home-made pound note.  This was obviously highly illegal and was a capital punishment offence until the time of Queen Victoria.   These days it is estimated that less than 0.0075% of notes are forged and this tiny percentage will likely decrease with the introduction of polymer notes.


About Stephen Liddell

I am a writer and traveller with a penchant for history and getting off the beaten track. With several books to my name including several #1 sellers. I also write environmental, travel and history articles for magazines as well as freelance work. I run my private tours company with one tour stated by the leading travel website as being with the #1 authentic London Experience. Recently I've appeared on BBC Radio and Bloomberg TV and am waiting on the filming of a ghost story on British TV. I run my own private UK tours company (Ye Olde England Tours) with small, private and totally customisable guided tours run by myself!
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6 Responses to The Bank of England issues plastic £5 notes

  1. gpj103 says:

    It seems strange to be moving to what is perhaps a non-renewable source for money in a time when recycling and renewable sources are more and more important. It makes me wonder if you happen to know if the plastic notes can be made from recycled plastic? I hope so.

    Liked by 2 people

    • That’s a good point. I checked the Bank of England website and apparently the new polymer money is more environmentally friendly on 6 out of 7 factors. It is also recyclable too apparently according to their statement…. At the end of their life, current Bank of England banknotes are shredded, compacted and then used with other organic materials in the manufacture of agricultural compost. The Bank will recycle polymer banknotes. There are a number of viable options and we are considering these in more detail. For the purposes of the study we assumed that polymer banknotes would be recycled by creating energy directly from waste in a specially designed plant. There are a number of other available options such as pyrolysis (thermal decomposition in the absence of oxygen) to create a form of bio diesel or converting the polymer waste into other usable products such as building products, plant pots and garden furniture.

      Liked by 1 person

      • gpj103 says:

        Crikey! That is a lot of words by them to say something simple isn’t it? 😄 Living in NZ where they do have plastic money, I have to say I quite like it although I have occasionally come across issues with people not accepting ripped notes so they are still no perfect. That said, it is incredible how close to cashless they are over here because people use cards for almost everything I think.


  2. It’s interesting how things are changing. When (or if) they change the money to plastic here in the USA, I’m going to keep a few old notes as keepsakes.
    I saw what you wrote about recycling old bills in the comments and I thought you might be interested to know that a small part of the bills that are retired here are made into toothbrush handles that accept replacement heads.

    Liked by 1 person

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