A History of British Banknotes

The first recorded use of paper money was in the 7th century in China. However, the practice did not become widespread in Europe for nearly a thousand years.

In the 16th century the goldsmith-bankers began to accept deposits, make loans and transfer funds. They also gave receipts for cash, that is to say gold coins, deposited with them. These receipts, known as “running cash notes”, were made out in the name of the depositor and promised to pay him on demand.

Many also carried the words “or bearer” after the name of the depositor, which allowed them to circulate in a limited way. In 1694 the Bank of England was established in order to raise money for King William III’s war against France. Almost immediately the Bank started to issue notes in return for deposits. Like the goldsmiths’ notes, the crucial feature that made Bank of England notes a means of exchange was the promise to pay the bearer the sum of the note on demand. This meant that the note could be redeemed at the Bank for gold or coinage by anyone presenting it for payment; if it was not redeemed in full, it was endorsed with the amount withdrawn. These notes were initially handwritten on Bank paper and signed by one of the Bank’s cashiers. They were made out for the precise sum deposited in pounds, shillings and pence. However, after the recoinage of 1696 reduced the need for small denomination notes, it was decided not to issue any notes for sums of less than £50. Since the average income in this period was less than £20 a year, most people went through life without ever coming into contact with banknotes.

During the 18th century there was a gradual move toward fixed denomination notes. From 1725 the Bank was issuing partly printed notes for completion in manuscript. The £ sign and the first digit were printed but other numerals were added by hand, as were the name of the payee, the cashier’s signature, the date and the number. Notes could be for uneven amounts, but the majority were for round sums. By 1745 notes were being part printed in denominations ranging from £20 to £1,000.

In 1759, gold shortages caused by the Seven Years War forced the Bank to issue a £10 note for the first time. The first £5 notes followed in 1793 at the start of the war against Revolutionary France. This remained the lowest denomination until 1797, when a series of runs on the Bank, caused by the uncertainty of the war, drained its bullion reserve to the point where it was forced to stop paying out gold for its notes. Instead, it issued £1 and £2 notes. The Restriction Period, as it was known, lasted until 1821 after which gold sovereigns took the place of the £1 and £2 notes. The Restriction Period prompted the Irish playwright and MP, Richard Brinsley Sheridan, to refer angrily to the Bank as “… an elderly lady in the City”. This was quickly changed by cartoonist, James Gillray, to the Old Lady of Threadneedle Street, a name that has stuck ever since.

The first fully printed notes appeared in 1853 relieving the cashiers of the task of filling in the name of the payee and signing each note individually. The practice of writing the name of the Chief Cashier as the payee on notes was halted in favour of the anonymous “I promise to pay the bearer on demand the sum of …”, which has remained unchanged on notes to this day. The printed signature on the note continued to be that of one of three cashiers until 1870, since when it has always been that of the Chief Cashier.

The First World War saw the link with gold broken once again; the Government needed to preserve its stock of bullion and the Bank ceased to pay out gold for its notes. In 1914 the Treasury printed and issued 10 shilling and £1 notes, a task which the Bank took over in 1928. The gold standard was partially restored in 1925 and the Bank was again obliged to exchange its notes for gold, but only in multiples of 400 ounces or more. Britain finally left the gold standard in 1931 and the note issue became entirely fiduciary, that is wholly backed by securities instead of gold.

The Bank has not always been the sole issuer of bank notes in England and Wales. Acts of 1708 and 1709 had given it a partial monopoly by making it unlawful for companies or partnerships of more than six people to set up banks and issue notes. The ban did not extend to the many provincial bankers – the so-called country bankers – who were all either individuals or small family concerns. However, the Country Bankers’ Act of 1826 allowed the establishment of note issuing joint-stock banks with more than six partners, but not within 65 miles of London. The Act also allowed the Bank of England to open branches in major provincial cities, which gave it more outlets for its notes.

In 1833 the Bank’s notes were made legal tender for all sums above £5 in England and Wales so that, in the event of a crisis, the public would still be willing to accept the Bank’s notes and its bullion reserves would be safeguarded. It was the 1844 Bank Charter Act which was the key to the Bank achieving its gradual monopoly of the note issue in England and Wales. Under the Act no new banks of issue could be established and existing note issuing banks were barred from expanding their issue. Those, whose issues lapsed, because, for example, they merged with a non-issuing bank, forfeited their right of issue. The last private bank notes in England and Wales were issued by the Somerset bank, Fox, Fowler and Co in 1921.

a British £5 note
a British £5 note

German Occupation of the Channel Islands

Hitler considered the Channel Islands – Jersey, Guernsey, Alderney, Sark and Herm – a valuable landing stage for the invasion of mainland France, as they sat just 20 miles off the French coast. Winston Churchill, however, thought they held no strategic importance for Britain and decided to de-militarise them and leave them undefended.

The Germans invade

As the German army stormed through France in June 1940, some 30,000 Channel Islanders (one third of the total population) were evacuated. Once the initial panic was over, the rest decided to stay and tough it out, mainly on Jersey and Guernsey.

On 28 June, the Luftwaffe bombed Jersey and Guernsey, unaware that the islands were undefended. They killed 44 people. Two days later, Luftwaffe personnel took control of Guernsey airfield. There they met the chief of police, who informed them that the islands were undefended.

The following day, a detachment of troops arrived on Guernsey and that afternoon the German flag was raised. More arrived later and their attention turned to the other islands.

Jersey surrendered on 1 July and soldiers were swftly stationed. Islanders had to show their compliance by flying white flags over their houses.

Sybil Hathaway, the Dame of Sark, received German officers on 2 July. They assured her she had nothing to fear and the island’s garrison of just ten men arrived on 4 July.

Alderney, meanwhile, was almost completely empty, but was garrisoned by a company of troops. Herm, the smallest of the islands, was visited by German soldiers on 25 July, although they did not set up a permanent station there.

Life under Nazi rule

A curfew was imposed between the hours of 11pm and 5am and ID cards had to be carried. The sale of spirits was banned. Later, wirelesses were banned and all British-born Islanders were deported to Germany.

A register of Jewish people was created and all Jewish business had to publicly identify themselves. Some were deported to concentration camps. Cars were requisitioned and the Germans controlled the food grown by farmers and caught by fishermen. Anyone caught trying to escape to Britain was imprisoned or shot – if they didn’t drown.

Four concentration camps were built on Alderney – the only ones on British territory. Alderney became the most heavily fortified of the islands, built by slave labour.

Resistance and collaboration

Whilst there was no consolidated resistance movement as there was in France, V for Victory signs were painted around the islands, underground newsletters were written, and guns and ammunition were stolen from German stores. Some Islanders assisted their Jewish neighbours and fed slave labourers. On Jersey, letters sent to the Commandant by informants were intercepted by the Post Office and destroyed. Many who did collaborate were attacked after liberation.

The beginning of the end

The D-Day landings in June 1944 came as both a blessing and a curse. Whilst they marked the beginning of the end for the German occupiers who relied on supply lines from the continent, they also meant that food lines were cut. As supplies dwindled, everyone began to starve. However, after negotiation with the Home Office, the Germans allowed the Red Cross’ SS Vega to deliver food, saving many of the Islanders’ lives. The Vega continued to bring food parcels even after the British liberated the islands on 9 May 1945.
occupation_channel_islands

Scotland – Our Brothers in Arms

TrainScotland_BOV460On 1 May 1707 the Scottish Parliament and the English Parliament each passed an Act of Parliament to simultaneously dissolve and form the new combined Parliament of the United Kingdom of Great Britain.

The new parliament would sit at the Palace of Renaissance, Reformation Westminster, the home of the old English and Mary Queen of Scots Parliament. Previous attempts at union had been made, but this was the first time there was sufficient support on both sides to make it happen.

Put simply, the Scots needed financial support from England, and the English wanted to ensure that Scotland would not choose a different monarch. It was not, however, a universally popular move and many teething troubles had to be overcome as the two different sets of traditions and practice were merged into one parliament.

Robert Burns would famously write about the Scots parliamentarians that had signed the Act of Union: …O would, or I had seen the day That Treason thus could sell us, My auld grey head had lien in clay, Wi’ Bruce and loyal Wallace! But pith and power, till my last hour, I’ll mak this declaration; We’re bought and sold for English gold-Such a parcel of rogues in a nation!

Burns’s view, and the view of many Scots, was that the parliamentarians that signed the act had been bribed. Tens of thousands of pounds were sent north to recompense Parliamentarians for losses they would suffer as a result of the union and for pensions.

The 1707 Union of Parliaments would open up the English colonial markets to Scots trade. In time Scotland recovered from the financial disaster of the Darien Scheme and the Scots made the most of the opportunities that the union offered.

Red tape aside, our cultures are richer, our boisterous rivalry endures. We remain united in brotherhood and long may it last.

Banksy: Psyching Out the Gift Shop

Exit Through the Gift Shop marked the feature-film debut of notorious street artist Banksy. The documentary’s focus was French-born L.A. thrift-shop owner Thierry Guetta, whose apparent compulsion to videotape every moment of his life leads him to document the phenomenon of contemporary street art. Guetta’s cousin, a street artist known as Space Invader, allows the avid cameraman to tape him as he illegally produces his art. Eventually, Guetta hooks up with Shepard Fairey, best known for his widespread stickers featuring an image of Andre the Giant over the word “OBEY.” Guetta soon hears about the mysterious street artist Banksy, and becomes obsessed with finding him and videotaping his exploits. Thanks to Guettta’s growing reputation among street artists, the two eventually meet and form a sort of partnership. Guetta even videotapes Banksy’s infamous “Gitmo” prank at Disneyland, wherein a handcuffed, hooded figure in an orange jumpsuit is placed beside one of the rides. They get along quite well until Banksy suggests that Guetta stop shooting, take the countless hours of footage he’s accumulated, and start assembling them into a documentary. Banksy eventually takes over the documentary project, and inadvertently pushes Guetta’s creative energy in a new direction, as Guetta becomes a kind of street artist himself, with shocking results, leading to much speculation as to the documentary’s veracity and the provenance of Guetta, his videotape, and his artwork.

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He is a national treasure: but he won’t be accepting a TV viewers’ award from Ant and Dec any time soon. Street artist, situationist and public-space japester Banksy is famed for his snogging coppers, simpering apes and for debunking Israel’s new West Bank barrier with graffiti. First shown in the director’s own pop-up cinema in an underpass in London’s Waterloo before moving on to more conventional locations, Exit Through the Gift Shop, like many of his graffitied images, is a kind of cinematic trompe l’oeil.

There have been notable hoax-oriented films in the recent past: such as The Blair Witch Project, Borat and the complete works of Lars von Trier. Exit Through the Gift Shop is in this genial tradition. Orson Welles made F for Fake; Banksy has made W for Windup. As a documentary, Exit Through the Gift Shop is as about as reliable and structurally sound as that house-front with the strategically placed window that falls on top of Buster Keaton. As entertainment, though, it works very well.

Introducing it at the Berlin film festival – he appeared on video with his face in darkness – the artist himself cheerfully declared he hoped that it would do for street art what The Karate Kid did for martial arts. Like karate, street art is more difficult than it looks, particularly the trick of making a living from it, maintaining a combat-ready crew of studio assistants, and all the time persuading an ever-widening circle of professional acquaintance to keep the secret of your anonymity.

What the film does, or purports to do, is take a sideways look at Banksy and the new explosion of street artists, particularly in Los Angeles. The practitioners, at the outset of their careers at least, were unpaid graffiti-outlaws, pulling off daring and often dangerous visual stunts for the sheer hell of it: people like Shepard Fairey, who incessantly replicated his Andre image on the sides of buildings, a fat staring man over the single word “Obey”. Fairey eventually became conventionally celebrated for his Barack Obama Hope poster.

At the centre of the film is the apparent friendship between Banksy and one of his biggest fans, Thierry Guetta, an LA-based Frenchman with a lucrative retro clothing business and a passion for making videos. Guetta got fascinated in the LA street art scene, followed the artists around and shot miles of unusable video in the hope of making a documentary. Eventually he seems to have made the acquaintance of Banksy himself, filming his “Guantánamo” stunt in the precincts of Disneyland: propping up an orange-jumpsuited life-sized doll near a ride.

With pixelated tongue in blanked-out cheek, Banksy claims that he persuaded Guetta not to make his own film, but to be the star of this one, and then to be an artist himself. In no time, Guetta is somehow producing hundreds of suspiciously accomplished Warhol-Banksy pop art-style knockoffs for a colossal Los Angeles show under his new street-art name “Mr Brainwash”. Well, Thierry Guetta may well exist – but at the mention of his Mr Brainwash output, you may feel a strange tugging sensation on your leg. This could be the most startling debutant in the art scene since novelist William Boyd told us all about the neglected genius Nat Tate –but Mr Brainwash’s works are available for purchase, which is more than I can say for Nat Tate.

You’re under no compunction to take the film seriously: but it does offer an insight, of a teasingly incomplete and semi-fictionalised sort, into Banksy’s working life. We see his helpers carry away a London telephone box, take it to pieces in his workshop, replace the wackily twisted result in its original position and film the response from passersby. Nobody scratches their head or strokes their chin and wonders if it is “art” or if its creator might have “sold out”. They just laugh their heads off. They enjoy it: it is absolutely hilarious and this, to my perhaps naive and untutored eye, is the most compelling argument in favour of Banksy and in favour of this chaotic film.

The same goes for Banksy’s Diana tenners: he shows a cardboard box full of real-looking £10 notes with Princess Diana’s face on instead of the Queen’s. These things could get him arrested for forgery. Like Mr Brainwash, they are inspired counterfeits. Perhaps the point of Banksy’s art is that it inhales the wild spirit of forgery: his work makes free with brand identities and the symbols of authority, it replicates them, debunks and devalues them, it is a form of benign subversion. And he could be an important artist or just a silly fad – either way, in the street and with this film, he’s providing pleasure while he lasts.Banksy-001

Osterly Park, West London

Osterley Park and its surrounding gardens, park
and farmland is one of the last surviving country
estates in London.
Osterly
In the 16th century, Sir Thomas Gresham, financier
and adviser to Elizabeth I, began amassing land at

Osterley. In 1565 he built a house here in a very
similar location to the one you will see today.
Nearly 150 years later, in 1713, the Osterley estate
was acquired by the Child family and in the 1760s
they commissioned Robert Adam to remodel it.
A banking family with a house in central London,
they used Osterley as a country villa for
entertaining. When the heiress Sarah Sophia Child
married the 5th Earl of Jersey in 1804, the family
moved to the Jersey estate at Middleton Park.
Osterley remained in family ownership, used on
occasions by the Jerseys or leased out, until the 9th
Earl of Jersey gave it to the National Trust in 1949.

The Thames Barrier

The Thames Flood Barrier is one of the largest movable flood barriers in the world, and celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2009. It protects London against surge tides from the Atlantic, and rising sea levels generally.

The need for a barrier was recognised in 1954 following disastrous storm surge floods in 1953, when 300 people died and 24,000 properties were destroyed. The then Greater London Council, statutory body responsible for flood protection from the 1960s, presided over an area of approximately 115 sq km below the 1953 river level.

Consultant Rendel, Palmer & Tritton first suggested a drop-gate barrier with two large navigable openings in 1958, which was rejected. The government appointed mathematician Sir Herman Bondi to review the situation. Following his recommendations, in 1968 the council commissioned physical model studies of the River Thames between Teddington Weir and Southend.

By autumn 1969, it was decided to site the barrier at Woolwich Reach and to improve the downstream flood defences as far as the outer estuary. Charles Draper devised the final design, using the shape of gas taps as his inspiration for the gates. Additional design work was by Rendel, Palmer & Tritton. Construction began in 1974.

The barrier has nine concrete piers and 10 gates, which together span some 520m from north to south bank. The piers are founded on steel cofferdams built on solid chalk 15.2m below river level. The iconic boat-shaped pier roofs are timber clad in stainless steel, containing machinery and lift shafts.

There are six openings for navigation, each with rising sector gates, and four non-navigable tidal openings, each with falling radial gates. Individual gates can be closed in 10-15 minutes, but closing the entire barrier takes one and a half hours, allowing for dissipation of reflected waves and equipment checks. Gates are closed in pairs from bank to centre. The optimum time to close the barrier is just after low tide.

The four central rising sector gates span 61.5m and weigh 3,300 tonnes each. The two flanking rising sector gates each span 31.5m. The straight back of each gate is at least 20m high, and just the paint can weigh up to 200 tonnes per gate.

Gates are recessed 4m into the river bed when the barrier is open to river traffic. When the barrier is closed, they are rotated up into the vertical position by pairs of yellow-painted hydraulically powered steel rocking beams weighing 49 tonnes. The gates can resist a maximum differential head of 9.1m, at which time each one transfers a thrust of 9,100 tonnes to the piers.

Construction work on the barrier was completed in October 1982, at an estimated cost of £535 million, with the first closure in February 1983. It was officially opened by HM Queen Elizabeth II on 8th May 1984.

The barrier was out of use temporarily in 1997, after the MV Sand Kite collided with it in thick fog on 27th October and sank. The vessel was refloated and most of her cargo salvaged, and the barrier resumed normal operations.

Although futuristic in appearance, the barrier relies on proven engineering technology rather than innovation. Resilience and reliability, together with a rigorous maintenance programme —each component has its own schedule — should ensure that the barrier is operational into the 22nd century, well beyond its design life of 2030.

The barrier has been closed against flooding 114 times, although closures occur monthly for maintenance too. It protects some 125 sq km of central London from flooding, notably during the storm surges of November 2007.

The Battle of River Plate

The Battle of River Plate took place on December 13th 1939. The battle in the South Atlantic was the first major naval battle of World War Two. Ships from the Royal Navy’s South American Division took on the might of Germany’s Graf Spee which was successfully attacking merchant shipping in the South Atlantic.

Great Britain’s South American Naval Division was made up of four cruisers. On Saturday, December 2nd, 1939, HMS Ajax, commanded by Captain Woodhouse, was harboured at Port Stanley in the Falkland Islands. Also at Port Stanley was HMS Exeter, commanded by Captain Bell. Two other ships made up the South American Division – HMS Cumberland, commanded by Captain Fallowfield, and HMNZSAchilles, commanded by Captain Parry. The commander of the South American Division was Commodore Harwood.

Harwood knew that the Graf Spee was in the South Atlantic somewhere but he had received no intelligence since November 15th as to her exact position. Harwood came to two conclusions:

There were three neutral countries in South America that allowed ships to use their harbour facilities – Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay. Under international law, a naval ship could only use a harbour once every three months. However, Harwood had built up a number of contacts in each country and this ‘law’ was given a liberal interpretation by both parties.

On December 2nd, 1939, Harwood received a message that a merchant ship, the ‘Doric Star’ had been attacked by a large German naval vessel just off St. Helena. The next day, Harwood was informed that another ship, the ‘Tairoa’, had also been attacked 170 miles to the south-west of where the ‘Doric Star’ had been attacked. Harwood assumed that it was the ‘Graf Spee’. By using the distance covered over 24 hours, Harwood estimated where this German naval ship could be. He worked off of an average speed of 15 knots an hour – in fact, the Graf Spee cruised at 22 knots; 50% faster than that estimated by the British. However, luck also assisted Harwood’s skill. The Graf Spee’s average speed was 22 knots – but it had been reduced as a result of the Graf Spee’s attacks on merchant shipping……to 15 knots, exactly what Harwood had calculated.

Harwood could not split his force of four cruisers so he decided that out of his two obvious choices, the River Plate in Argentina and Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, he would place his force at the mouth of the River Plate and wait. Even so, Harwood had to assume that the Graf Spee would go to South America – what if it turned to the West Indies?

On paper, four British cruisers against one German pocket-battleship would have been no contest. In fact, the Graf Spee was potentially an awesome opponent. The Treaty of Versailles had forbidden Germany from making what would have been considered to be classic battleships. To get round the restrictions of Versailles, Germany produced pocket battleships. The Graf Spee was commissioned in 1936. The Graf Spee was fast enough to outrun any battleship but was also armed with sufficient weapons to be a potent enemy. The Graf Spee had six 11 inch guns, numerous anti-aircraft guns and six 21 inch torpedo tubes at her stern. Her broadside range was 30,000 yards. She carried two Arado aircraft that could be launched by catapult. Her weaponry was superior to any carried by a British heavy cruiser and her armour, at 5.5 inches, was sufficient to resist shells up to 8 inches. Her eight diesel engines gave the ship 56,000 horsepower and a top speed of 26 knots. The engines also allowed the Graf Spee to travel 12,500 miles without refueling – near enough halfway round the world.

In the Battle of the River Plate, the Graf Spee was to be pitted against British cruisers. Though faster than the Graf Spee, they were all outgunned. The Exeter had six 8 inch guns, a top speed of 31 knots but her broadside range was 27,000 yards. Ajax, seen below, and Achilles had a smaller broadside range of 25,000 yards and were equipped with eight 6 inch guns.

The commander of the Graf Spee, Langsdorff, knew that he had range on his side and he could effectively engage the enemy while they could not engage him – as long as the Graf Spee kept its distance. The only threat in terms of distance was the Exeter – if the Graf Spee took the Exeter out of any battle, Langsdorff knew that he was relatively free of trouble. For Harwood, he knew that he had speed on his side and that he could keep out of the range of the Graf Spee but keep up with her, trailing her, until bigger reinforcements arrived.

On December 13th, 1939, the Graf Spee was targeting the route used by merchant ships near the River Plate in Argentina. Harwood had given the Ajax, Achilles and Exeter orders to engage the Graf Spee “at once by night or day” if the ships came across her.

At 05.52, look outs on the Graf Spee saw two tall masts on the horizon. By 06.00, Langsdorff had identified one of the ships seen as being the Exeter. He decided that the ships trailing the Graf Spee were protecting an important merchant convoy and he decided to attack. The engines of the Graf Spee were put onto a battle footing – their power was greatly increased. This gave out a plume of highly visible black smoke from the funnels of the Graf Spee and the following British cruisers could clearly see her position. The Graf Spee turned to attack and at 06.17 opened fire on the Exeter. The Exeter was hit amidships and the ship sustained damage. A salvo from the Graf Spee did a great deal of damage to the wheelhouse and killed all but three of the officers in it. The captain, Bell, survived and he ordered that the remaining turrets should fire on the Graf Spee. One salvo hit the Graf Spee near its turrets.

The Achilles and Ajax were also involved in this battle but they had stayed away from the Exeter in an attempt to split the Graf Spee’s fire power. It proved to be a successful ploy. More shells from the Graf Spee’s 11 inch guns hit the Exeter that continued to take massive damage. However, some of the Exeter’s torpedo tubes were undamaged and at 06.31, three torpedoes were fired at the Graf Spee from the Exeter. At that moment, Langsdorff had decided to turn and the three torpedoes missed. His attack on the Exeter continued and 11 inch shells hit the cruiser. However, the engine room was not damaged but electricity in the ship was lost and it was this that forced the Exeter out of the battle. Bell planned to ram the Graf Spee but he was ordered out of the battle by Harwood.

Now the Achilles and Ajax took up the battle. They were against a ship that had been hit but had suffered minimal damage at this stage even though Langsdorff had been knocked unconscious in one attack. Both ships were ordered by Harwood to approach the Graf Spee “at the utmost speed”.  Langsdorff, a torpedo specialist, kept both ships astern to give them the smallest possible target with regards to a torpedo attack.

What happened next is open to interpretation. Langsdorff went around the Graf Spee to assess the damage. He then told his navigator:

This decision, according to the Graf Spee’s gunnery officer was not well received. The ship had been hit by seventeen shells but junior officers of the Graf Spee later stated that the damage done to the ship was insufficient to cause it to run to a port. At this stage in the battle, the Graf Spee had suffered 37 dead and 57 wounded out of a total complement of 1,100. In comparison, the Exeter was three feet down in the waterline and had lost 61 men killed and could only use a ship’s compass for navigation with shouted orders to ensure that those orders were carried out. Harwood ordered her to return to the Falkland Islands.

All the indications pointed to the Graf Spee heading towards the River Plate and Montevideo. In fact the ship’s action report states clearly that it was the navigating officer that recommended Montevideo. Langsdorff sent a telegram to Berlin that stated:

Whether the Graf Spee was so badly damaged is open to question. The ship had been hit by seventeen shells but one gunnery officer recorded that three of these hits had simply bounced off of the armour and that the others had hit the ship “without causing damage”. The authorities in Uruguay, on inspecting the Graf Spee when it reached the River Plate, commented that the largest hit was six feet by six feet but was well above the waterline – as was all of the damage to the ship.

The Graf Spee made for the River Plate – the Plate estuary is a huge bay 120 miles across. The two remaining cruisers, Ajax and Achilles, patrolled the estuary to ensure that the Graf Spee could not slip out back into the Atlantic under the cover of dark. The crews later called this the ‘death watch’.