History of the £5 Pound Note

Bank notes were originally issued by the Bank of England in 1694. Their purpose was to be provided as a receipt in exchange for gold loans to the bank to fund King William III’s war against France. To this day all British notes have the statement “I promise to pay the bearer on demand the sum of…” It literally meant anyone who held the note could take it to the Bank of England and exchange it for the equivalent price in gold coin. Unfortunately, since British currency left the gold standard in favour of securities in 1931 you can no longer trade your notes in for gold. Below discover the history of past, present and future £5 notes.

Series A: “White Fiver” – Issued 1793

In 1793 as a reaction to the war against Revolutionary France, and the resulting depletion of the Bank of England’s gold reserves, the first £5 notes were introduced. The notes were 195 x 120mm in size (much bigger than today’s equivalent of 135 x 70mm) and were produced in black ink on white paper, later becoming known as the “White Fiver”. These notes were left relatively unchanged (with the exception of some size fluctuations) until 1945 when a metal thread security feature was introduced for the first time.

Series B: Issued 1957

The White Fiver was removed from circulation in March 1961, four years after the release of the first double-sided and multi-coloured £5 note (Series B). This new note was designed by Stephen Gooden and for the first time had a watermark image which could be viewed from both sides of the note. The front side featured a portrait of a helmeted Britannia, as well as an image of St. George and a dragon in the centre. The reverse depicts a Lion holding a double-sided key; a symbol of Britain’s economic strength. This note continued to be legal tender until June 1967.





Series C: Issued 1963

In 1963 the series C note was released. Designed by Reynolds Stone it was the first £5 note to depict a portrait of a monarch (Queen Elizabeth II).  On the rear there was a full body depiction of Britannia  holding an olive branch with her famous shield and trident; she can be seen sitting next to a pile of coins. This bank-note continued using complex designs and drawings as a security measure against counterfeits.





Series D: Issued 1971

The 1971 Series D £5 note was designed by Harry Eccleston and was part of the series that became known as pictorial bank notes. For the first time, Series D notes not only had an image of the Queen on the front but depicted a historical figure on the reverse. The £5 was the second such note to depict a historical figure, the first being the July 1970 £20 note. One other notable feature of this £5 note was the increased width of the metal thread, which doubled to 1mm in a 1987 revision.

On previous notes the Queen had been shown wearing the George IV State Diadem with pearl necklace, on Series D however she was depicted wearing state robes, the George IV State Diadem, Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee necklace and Queen Alexandra’s Cluster Earrings. Next to her there is an image of Nike the goddess of victory and below that a seal showing Britannia.

On the reverse the historical figure shown is the Duke of Wellington (1769 – 1852). Field Marshal Arthur Wellesley (1st Duke of Wellington ) was an Anglo-Irish soldier and key military figure. His most famous achievement is the defeat of Napoleon in the 1815 Battle of Waterloo. On the Series D note he is shown standing next to a battle scene commemorating the Battle of Salamanca (22nd July 1812) in which the United Kingdom, Portugal & Spain lead a decisive victory over the French during the Peninsular War (1807 – 1814).





Series E: Version One – Issued 1990

The current £5 note in use today is the Series E note (revised edition) designed by Roger Withington, it is the first £5 note to be truly multicoloured, with a strong emphasis on Turquoise blue and also the first to have a windowed metal thread security feature; the thread is visible in all conditions as 4mm long sections spaced apart. When held up to the light the thread can be seen as a solid strip running vertically up the note.

The Series E has been revised twice since its initial release in 1990. The first edition depicts George Stephenson (1781 – 1848) who was an English civil & mechanical engineer, sometimes known as the “Father of Railways” for his achievements building the world’s first inter-city steam locomotive railway system. His rail gauge also known as the “Stephenson Gauge” is a standard of most railways across the world.





Series E: Version Two – Issued 1993

The 1st revision was made to change some colouring on the note. The £5 in the top left corner on both sides was made a darker shade of the previous colours to help it stand out further – dark blue for the front and olive for the rear. This version of the note ceased to be legal tender in November 2003.

Series E: Version Three – Issued 2002

The 2nd revision of the Series E £5 note is the one currently in use today. Instead of George Stephenson it depicts Elizabeth Fry (1780 – 1845). Fry, often referred to as the “angel of prisons” was an English activist and social reformer who was a major influence on the introduction of new legislation to treat prisoners more humanely. In 1818 she also became the first woman to give evidence in Parliament.





Britain’s First Polymer Notes – Issued 2015

On 23rd March 2015, in commemoration of the 125th anniversary of the Forth Bridge, Scotland’s Clydesdale Bank issued Britain’s first polymer £5 note. This note depicts the Forth Bridge, as well as Scottish engineer Sir William Arrol; one of the men who was responsible for its construction.

Chief Operating Officer Debbie Crosbie said on the notes release:
“We take our responsibility as an issuer of banknotes seriously and are extremely proud to once again be leading the way in innovation. Our new polymer notes are more durable and secure, which will deliver a positive impact for the public and businesses. We have achieved that while also creating a striking and beautiful design which celebrates an iconic Scottish landmark.”

The Forth Bridge is still considered a great engineering accomplishment and it is with the innovative spirit of the bridge in mind that the Clydesdale Bank have issued the first £5 polymer note in Great Britain, leading Britain into the innovative world of plastic bank notes.





Series F: Bank of England’s First Polymer Notes – To be Issued in 2016

In 2015 the Bank of England announced that Winston Churchill (1874 – 1965) was going to be the face of a brand new polymer £5 note. Then Governor of the Bank of England, Sir Mervyn King stated; Churchill was chosen as he is “a hero of the entire free world”. The rest of the note will include a well-known Churchill quote from 1940 “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat” as well as a depiction of Elizabeth tower with the clock pointing to three o’clock, which is the rough time of Churchill’s quote.

When released in 2016 the note will end 322 years of Bank of England paper based money. The Bank of England spent three years researching the switch from cotton paper to polymer, holding multiple public consultations around the country.

“The Bank’s research has shown considerable benefits in polymer banknotes, they are cleaner, more secure, and more durable than paper banknotes. They will provide enhanced counterfeit resilience, and increase the quality of banknotes in circulation. Polymer notes are also more environmentally friendly than paper and, because they last longer are, over time, cheaper than paper banknotes.”
– Bank of England.

The size of the bank-note is also going to change and will continue the ongoing trend of making the notes smaller. It is estimated the note will be around 15% smaller than the current Series E notes.

A handout image released by the Bank of England 26 April 2013 showing the Sir Winston Churchill banknote concept. Churchill’s image, based on a portrait made in 1941, is expected to appear on the new five pound banknote as of from 2016, though the Bank of England says the plans have not been finalized as yet. EPA/BANK OF ENGLAND / HANDOUT HANDOUT EDITORIAL USE ONLY/NO SALES

Extra Reading & Information:

Bank of England Bank Note Statistics

Article Sources:

Bank of England – Withdrawn Bank Notes PDF
Clydesdale Bank – Polymer Notes
World Bank Notes & Coins
Bank of England – Moving to Polymer Notes