Monday, February 15th 1971, was the day Britain's currency 'went Decimal'. A system that had existed since Anglo-Saxon times,
and was based on a Pound (£) made up of 20 Shillings (s), each of which contained 12 Pence (d), was replaced with one where a Pound
contained 100 Pence (p). The old system had some benefits: as it was based on 12, amounts were exactly divisible by 2, 3, 4, and 6;
whereas 10 is only divisible by 2 and 5. No longer could £1 be split equally three ways, whereas an 'Old Pound' could be divided by
three to give six shillings, and eight pence (6/8d).
But the old system was cumbersome, it required amounts to be written in three
columns, and calculations were difficult - an addition (for example) needed the total of the pennies column to be carried forward
into the shillings column in units of 12; the total of the shillings column to be converted to pounds in units of 20.
to the old system are:
- a form used by the Bank's Head Office to summarise branch data has three columns
The change to a decimal system had been a
prospect for over 100 years. In 1849 a florin coin (2/-) had been introduced, which was inscribed 'one tenth of a pound'. This step
was the starting point of the government's intention to adopt a decimal currency, but the next step was not until 1966, when the Chancellor
of the Exchequer (James Callaghan) announced that a system based on a Pound divided into 100 units was to be introduced. The
Chancellor presented a Report to Parliament on December 12th 1966
The Decimal Currency Act of 1967 paved the way for decimalisation,
with an almost five-year preparatory period. The Decimal Currency Board oversaw the change, and introduced a massive publicity and
educational campaign. The preparatory period was also used to mint over 2,000 million decimal coins - an enormous task that was undertaken
by a new Royal Mint that was built in South Wales.
The first of the new decimal coins were the 5p and 10p, introduced in April 1967
- these corresponded exactly in size and value to the existing 1/- and 2/-, thus being interchangeable and they therefore circulated
together. On October 14th 1969, the 50p coin was introduced - the equivalent of the existing 10/- note
, which ceased to be legal tender
on November 22nd 1970. Thus three of the six new coins to be used in the decimal system were made familiar to the public, by everyday
usage, well in advance of D-Day: February 15th 1971.
The three remaining decimal coins (½p; 1p; 2p) were introduced on D-Day itself,
but they too were made familiar to the public - by the sale of souvenir sets
in 1968, in blue plastic wallets, containing all but
the 50p of the new coins. The old halfpenny was demonetised on August 1st 1969, and the half-crown (2/6d) suffered a similar fate
on January 1st 1970. (see Pre-decimal currency
In common with other financial institutions, the Bank issued 'conversion charts'
customers, and in preparation for D-Day, the Bank instituted training exercises for the staff. The major exercise of decimalisation,
however, was the conversion of all the customers' account balances from £sd to £p, and the subsequent production of new ledger balances.
The fact that the Pound unit was retained considerably simplified this exercise. To enable all banks etc to convert balances and replace
its redundant coins, all financial institutions were closed from 3:30pm on Wednesday, February 10th until 10:00am on Monday, February
15th. These dates were chosen on the basis that the middle of February was the quietest time of the year for banks, shops, and transport
operations. But the long lead-in time and the extensive publicity given to decimalisation resulted in a very smooth changeover, the
whole operation subsequently being described as the non-event of the year.
Two benefits to the banking system to result from decimalisation were related to cheques. The 2d stamp duty previously payable on
each individual cheque was cancelled; and it was no longer necessary to write the amount of the cheque fully in words - a new practice
was established whereby only the amount in pounds was to written in words, the amount of pence to be in figures only. (See Early BMB
Redundant coins, such as the old One Pence and Threepence ceased to be legal tender by August 31st 1971. The old Sixpenny
coin (worth 2½ pence) continued in circulation until June 30th 1980. 1982 saw the introduction of the 20p coin, and a One Pound coin
was introduced in 1983. One Pound notes were demonetised on March 11th 1988.
Eric recalls that the event proceeded extremely smoothly under the leadership of Alban. He also
recalls no conversion charts were used by staff - all the changeover calculations were made by mental arithmetic, thus speeding up
the process considerably. These two members of staff also contributed significantly to the decimalisation preparations for the savings
banks movement as a whole - see below
The Bank's 1971 Annual Report merely stated that: The change to decimal currency on the
15th February was effected smoothly and every help was given to depositors in the change-over period.
DECIMALISATION AND THE
SAVINGS BANKS INSTITUTE
At a meeting of the Council of the Savings Banks Institute in 1969, it was agreed that, in view of the
forthcoming conversion to decimal currency in 1971, a Decimal Advisory Committee be formed. Six TSB officers formed the Committee,
which included the BMB's Alban Clemons.
The Committee's terms of reference included the production of articles regarding decimalisation
for inclusion in the SBI Journal. Four of these articles are reproduced on this website:
 SBI Journal, March 1969
article reproduces a lecture given to students. The author is unknown, but his or her talk may well have given the students considerable
apprehension regarding the impending change in the currency. Fortunately, the reality of the changeover was far simpler - in particular,
uncomplicated charts provided an easy method of converting old pence (d) to new pence (p). Such a chart (see below) was devised
by one of the BMB's staff (Eric Bignell), and was reproduced in the SBI Journal, January 1970;
 SBI Journal, January 1970
this article (by Alban Clemons) describes how the BMB dealt with its Standing Order system in the run up to to Decimalisation.
The article gives an excellent insight into the basic system used within the Standing Order Department;
 SBI Journal, January
- written by the TSB Association's Assistant Secretary (W G Cherrett), this article describes the
arrangements to be followed for cheque clearance etc on the imminently approaching D-Day;
 SBI Journal, May 1971
by the General Manager of Chorley TSB (C C Lees), this article provides a retrospect of 'the non-event of the year'.
addition to the above-mentioned contributions to the Decimalisation of Savings Banks made by Alban Clemons and Eric Bignell, the SBI
Journal of September 1969 reproduced a display (see below) devised by BMB's John Lafford. This display card drew the attention of
depositors to the demise of two pre-decimal coins: half pennies and half crowns. Copies of the display card can be seen in a 1969 photograph of the Safe Deposit interior
In addition to the conversion of individual ledger accounts, it was necessary to make the corresponding conversion in individual passbooks.
A special rubber stamp was used to mark the point of conversion - as in the attached example (right).
A repercussion of 'Going
Decimal' that was unique to the Bank was the necessity to reprint its Savings Coupons.
The examples reproduced below shows
the replacements for the One Shilling (1/-) and Two Shilling (2/-) pre-decimal coupons.