Oxfordshire, England. On June 2, the Bank of England officially unveiled its first-ever polymer bank note; it is also the first bank note to feature a portrait of Sir Winston Churchill, renowned politician, artist, Nobel Prize winner, and Prime Minister of Great Britain during the Second World War. Churchill was credited with bolstering the hopes and spirits of the British people in the face of what seemed a possible victory for Hitler and the Nazis in the initial months of fighting in Europe.
The setting for today’s event was Blenheim Palace, the traditional seat of the Dukes of Marlborough since the 1700’s and the birthplace of Winston Churchill, a descendant of this illustrious family. Blenheim is a spectacular palace that is currently one of Great Britain’s most visited tourist attractions. Still a functioning private residence, Blenheim’s breath-taking grounds are carefully manicured, and the state rooms are as fine as anything seen in the most luxurious and opulent estates.
Invited guests and the media were brought to the Marlborough Room in the Orangery of Blenheim for the ceremony, which was opened by Lord Nicholas Soames, Grandson of Sir Winston. He spoke of the history of Blenheim, the origins of which started with the first Duke of Marlborough, whose allegiance to Queen Anne earned his family a reward for their continued service: the county in which Blenheim is located, along with funds to build a stately home.
The presentation was then hosted by the current and 9th Duke of Marlborough, who took the opportunity to introduce Governor Mark Carney. Governor Carney joined the Bank of England in July 2013, and opened with comments on the new polymer bank note, which will be introduced into circulation later this year. The governor spoke of the importance of Churchill as a symbol of the nation, commenting that he’d once been duly voted the greatest Briton of all time by public poll.
Carney remarked on the famous Churchill “bulldog spirit,” famously evidenced during the challenging years of the Second World War, and reminded distinguished guests and the immediate family of Sir Winston that Churchill had been the only British Prime Minister to receive a Noble Prize for Literature, which he won in 1953. With his comments concluded, the audience was shown a short video unveiling the new design and detailing many new security features incorporated into the polymer note.
This was not the first time the Carney had officiated in the unveiling of a new Bank of England note; during his early weeks as governor he announced that 19th-century author Jane Austen would be featured on the upcoming £10 note.
Governor Carney has taken a special interest in Bank of England bank notes. It is said he has spearheaded the transition of the notes from paper to polymer, a move similar to one he made while Governor of the Bank of Canada.
With the unveiling concluded, the assembled guests, family, and the media were shown the Bank of England’s display and user-friendly presentation of the new bank note. This took place adjacent to the Marlborough Room with about a dozen Bank of England employees from various departments holding the new £5 notes in hand, ready to show them off.
Invited guests weren’t the only ones treated to this special display. Lucky members of the public visiting Blenheim got a chance to comment on the polymer note and take part in demonstrations showing its durability when confronted by liquid or rough handling. Included in the audience of onlookers was the Duke of Marlborough, who enthusiastically posed for photos with visitors and the new note, to the delight of many at Blenheim.
Also speaking to the media and guests in the gardens of Blenheim was Lord Nicholas Soames, the last surviving grandson of Churchill. Lord Soames spoke of his belief that his grandfather would have enjoyed the notion of his portrait being included on a new British bank note. He also mentioned that his grandfather was somewhat shy and felt he was undeserving of the accolades he was shown in his later years.
Lord Soames commented during the presentation that his grandfather had once been offered the title of “Duke of London” by the Queen for his services to the nation; he turned this down, commenting that “two dukes in any one family would be two too many.”
The Bank of England highlighted the new features of the issue, pointing out its durability, the security elements of the flexible plastic substrate, and the increased difficulty of counterfeiting polymer notes. The note also incorporates a foil hologram and a golden color on the tower of London, included on the clear window.
The new note is 15% smaller than the current note in circulation. Representatives also confirmed the £10 Austen note and the Turner £20 note will be issued by 2020 and will be decreased in size to accommodate the new dimension of the £5 Churchill note.
The note will enter circulation on September 13, 2016. The Bank of England has announced that the current “Elizabeth Fry” note will remain in circulation until May 2017 and can be redeemed at Bank of England offices until then. For more information on the new Churchill £5 note, as well Bank of England notes presently in circulation, please visit the Web site of the Bank of England.
My thanks go to the press and media relations department of the Bank of England for assistance with this article. It is greatly appreciated.
Photos by Michael Alexander, LBMRC UK.