Show Me the Money (Preferably Displaying a Female Historical Person)

Ever had a really good look at British bank notes?  One side displays the current reigning monarch and the other side shows a historically significant British person.  British bank notes are changed regularly and the historical personage chosen is at the discretion of the Bank of England.

British five ten and twenty pound notes

The current Governor of the Bank of England, Mervyn King, has announced recently that new GBP 5 notes printed as of 2016 will feature Winston Churchill (replacing social reformer Elisabeth Fry).  Fry and Florence Nightingale are the only 2 non-royal women who have ever featured on a British banknote.  Moreover, although Darwin’s image on the GBP 10 banknote is actually the oldest of the current crop of banknotes, his picture is not facing immediate replacement.

English: Bank of England, City of London EC3

English: Bank of England, City of London EC3 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Concerned citizens have set up an online petition to reverse King’s decision at which has already received over 25,000 signatures.  No one disputes that Churchill is a worthy candidate to be featured on a banknote.  The issue, however, is about overlooking all the important women who have made significant contributions to Britain.

King’s response that a woman is represented on all the banknotes already (the Queen) is just plain condescending.  The monarch is always on the banknotes by virtue of his or her position.  The person on the other side is chosen for their achievements.

woman victorious

Out of the 4 banknotes that Britain has, surely one should be reserved for a woman?  Admittedly the list of qualified women is shorter than men because historically women have been limited to the domestic sphere.   There have been plenty of suggestions on significant women in British history to jog King’s memory along.   A Guardian poll asking the public  listed a diverse range of options, including Mary Wollstonecraft (author and philosopher), Jane Austen (author), Rosalind Franklin (scientist) and Mary Seacole (pioneer nurse).

Nouormand: Pliaque à Londres

Nouormand: Pliaque à Londres (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Who would I vote for?  I have a soft spot for Octavia Hill primarily because I am a daily recipient of her foresight because I live near Hampstead Heath.

English: Footpath on Hampstead Heath. A footpa...

English: Footpath on Hampstead Heath. A footpath across Hampstead Heath running almost parallel to West Heath Road. The photo was taken looking almost due west. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Octavial Hill was another 19th century social reformer who had many charitable interests.  Born in the countryside into a family who believed in social reform, her family fell into straightened circumstances and moved to London.  She had no formal education and started working at the age of 14.  Her early years in the countryside left her with the strong belief that poor people would benefit from green spaces.  I am very grateful that she was instrumental in keeping Hampstead Heath and Highgate Woods as public open spaces instead of falling into the hands of developers.

English: View of Highgate from Hampstead Heath...

English: View of Highgate from Hampstead Heath, London, England. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

She was also one of the 3 founders of the National Trust.  Through her work with the urban poor, she met John Ruskin who was an investor in the early form of social housing she set up.   In addition to collecting rents, Hill and her colleagues also set up a home visiting service for the tenants which would form the basis for modern social work.

social work

Tristram Hunt, politician and historian, wrote an article about Octavia Hill for The National Trust Magazine on the centenary of her death in 2012.

“In addition to founding the Trust, she was one of the greatest social entrepreneurs in British history.  From housing to philanthropy, arts policy to feminism, welfare reform to conservation, her legacy is all around us and, what is more, in current times, it is coming back into fashion.”

Tristram Hunt (2012)

I have a daughter who I am encouraging to be a strong, fearless female.  I hope she will be someone who will, in Sheryl Sandberg’s parlance, Lean In (if she chooses to) and take advantage of all the opportunities available to her (thanks to the hard work and sacrifice of generations of women who came before her).  Although many of those women are nameless, it’s not asking too much to honour one of the women we do know about alongside the other Great Britons represented on the banknotes.

If you care about this issue, please sign the petition at  and forward this post to other people who would do the same.

3 thoughts on “Show Me the Money (Preferably Displaying a Female Historical Person)

    1. shobha Post author

      Yes, I will! I was on hampstead heath this morning with my dog and thought how glorious it was. Thank you Octavia Hill for fighting to keep it undeveloped.

  1. Pingback: Join the #banknotes Campaign |

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