• Jane Dexter

Decimal Day delivers new UK Currency – 15th February 1971


The British Government launched a new decimal currency across the country.

The familiar pound (£), shilling (s) and pence (d) coins were phased out over an 18 month period in favour of the system dividing the pound into units of ten, including half, one, two, five, ten and 50 pence denominations.

Chairman of the Decimal Currency Board (DCB) Lord Fiske told reporters: "The general picture is quite clear and the smooth and efficient changeover so many people have worked for is now in fact being achieved."

But he expected it would take several months to adapt the five million machines affected by the new coinage.

According to Chairman of the Joint Trade Committee of the London Cab Trade, John Welland, it will take 15 months to convert all the fare meters for London's 9,000 taxis.

Countdown to decimalisation

Banks were closed for two working days to prepare for the implementation of the new currency on what has become known as Decimal Day (D Day).

Some traders (such as luxury London department store Fortnum and Mason) were well-prepared for the switch, with dual pricing on many items.

But reporters noted some men continued to spend their old pennies in the public lavatories in Piccadilly!!

Chairman of the British Bankers' Association decimalisation committee, Bernard Sharpe, made clear old coins would not last.

"There is no case whatever for the retention of the sixpence in a decimal currency system, except for sentimentality for the 'dear old tanner'," he said.

A few market-stall holders were concerned by the size of the new halfpenny, but Lord Fiske explained: "It is not unduly small by world standards. It has an important role to play particularly in price-shading of low-priced goods."

Work on the new system began in earnest in March 1966 when the Treasury made the practical and legislative preparations for setting up a Whitehall department a year later.

So, who still has a pile of old half pennies? Somewhere in a garden on Standard Hill, Coalville lies buried a tatty old purse containing over 50 half pennies! Sam’s childhood pirate days when she would bury items in her garden for her friends to find by way of a handmade treasure map!

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