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gold or coinage by anyone presenting it for payment; if it was not redeemed in full, it was endorsed with the amount withdrawn.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

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.