Bye bye, Elizabeth Fry. Today in England and Wales is the last day on which you can spend your paper £5 notes, the ones which bear her image, in shops. From midnight tonight, those notes where you can glimpse the prison reformer reading to prisoners at Newgate will no longer be legal tender.
You can still take them to your bank, though, for the next few months, or down to the Bank of England in Threadneedle Street, forever, to swap them. (You could furnish the Bank of England with a ten-shilling note and they wouldn’t raise an eyebrow.)
The move to the new, stronger, less easy to counterfeit, polymer £5 note has not been without controversy.
First of all, the note contains a small amount of tallow, a substance derived from animal fat. This led to objections from vegans and some religious groups. The Bank of England says it is working on a replacement product, but won’t be taking the new notes out of circulation, thank you very much, despite a petition demanding that it do so.
Second, when told that Winston Churchill would be the main portrait on the new note, the public reacted with outcries of shock and horror: no British banknotes would contain a portrait of a woman. (Except the queen, of course; she’s on all of them.) Catastrophe averted when the Bank of England announced that author Jane Austen would appear on the new polymer £10 note, replacing Charles Darwin. Jane will enter circulation in September 2017. So we only have to struggle through a few female-free months.
So goodbye, paper fivers. The only trouble is, the Bank of England reckons there’s still 150 million of them out there…