Wednesday, December 4, 2013
Jane Austen and British Banknotes
[Apologies to my UK readers for telling you stuff you know already, but most readers of this blog are American so this might actually be vaguely interesting to them.]
A few months ago I listened to a radio debate sparked by a redesign of one of our banknotes. Here in the UK we have four notes (bills). £5 is bluey green and has a picture of Elizabeth Fry, a prison reformer and philanthropist. The £10 note is brown and features Charles Darwin. The £20 note is purple and has a picture of Adam Smith, a pioneer of political economy. Apparently (I've never had one) the £50 note is red and has a picture of Matthew Boulton and James Watt who together developed the steam engine. (The notes are all different sizes and colours to help blind and partially sighted people identify which is which, and £1 = about US$1.50)
Anyway, this debate was talking about the fact that the Bank of England had decided to redesign the £5 note, as it does with all notes occasionally, and it would now feature Winston Churchill. I admire Churchill, but a controversy had arisen because it would mean that UK banknotes now only pictured men. Naturally the protest arose that it was just as important to celebrate the enormous contribution that women had made to British history.
A petition arose and apparently it was successful because we have just heard that the £10 note is also to be redesigned and Charles Darwin will gave way to Jane Austen.
I'm very happy about having a woman, and a writer, featured on the money I use every day. Especially that it's Charles Darwin who is being ousted, because he in turn replaced Florence Nightingale who is, according to family lore, among my ancestors. I look forward to seeing Mary Wollstoncraft, Virginia Woolf and George Elliot nestling amidst the receipts in my purse someday. JK Rowling isn't eligible, because you have to be a dead historical figure, apparently.
But perhaps the amusing PS to this story about all the protests that the notes only feature men is that if you turn them over they all have a picture of the Queen.
Posted by Anna Buttimore