Bank of England £5 note

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Five pounds
(United Kingdom)
Width125 mm
Height65 mm
Security featuresSee-through window, finely detailed metallic image, coloured border which changes from purple to green when the note is tilted, silver foil patch, microlettering, textured print, EURion constellations, holograms
Material usedPolymer
Years of printing1793–present
Bank of England £5 obverse.jpg
DesignQueen Elizabeth II
Design date13 September 2016
Bank of England £5 reverse.jpg
DesignWinston Churchill
Design date13 September 2016 [a]

The Bank of England £5 note, also known as a fiver, is a banknote of the pound sterling. It is the smallest denomination of banknote issued by the Bank of England. In September 2016, a new polymer note was introduced, featuring the image of Queen Elizabeth II on the obverse and a portrait of Winston Churchill on the reverse. The old paper note, first issued in 2002 and bearing the image of prison reformer Elizabeth Fry on the reverse, was phased out and ceased to be legal tender after 5 May 2017.[1]



Five pound notes (£5) were introduced by the Bank of England in 1793, following the ten pound note, which had been introduced in 1759 as a consequence of gold shortages caused by the Seven Years' War.[2] The 5 pound note was introduced again, due to gold shortages caused by the French Revolutionary Wars and the Napoleonic Wars and was the lowest denomination of note issued until 1797.[3] The earliest notes were handwritten and were issued to individuals as needed. These notes were written on one side only and bore the name of the payee, the date and the signature of the issuing cashier.[4]

Restriction period[edit]

In 1797, due to the extra money need to fund the war and the uncertainty caused as Britain declared war on France, a series of bank runs drained the Bank of England of its gold supply.[3] The Bank was forced to stop exchanging gold for notes and to issue notes of £1 and £2 denominations. This was known as the 'restriction period', as the exchange of notes for their value in gold was restricted.[5]

The Restriction Period ended in 1821 as the Government had to anchor the value of the currency to gold in order to control sharply rising inflation and national debt. After a brief period to offset any sudden deflation, the UK returned to the gold standard on 1 May 1821.[6][7] These notes could again be exchanged in full, or in part, for an equivalent amount of gold when presented at the bank.[8] If redeemed in part, the banknote would be marked to indicate the amount that had been redeemed. From 1853 printed notes replaced handwritten notes, with the declaration "I promise to pay the bearer on demand the sum of five pounds" replacing the name of the payee. This declaration remains on Bank of England banknotes to this day. A printed signature of one of three cashiers appeared on the printed notes, though this was replaced by the signature of the Chief Cashier from 1870 onward.[9]

Move away from gold standard[edit]

A white £5 note, issued in 1935

The right to redeem banknotes for gold ceased in 1931, when Britain stopped using the gold standard.[10] Metal thread was introduced on the £5 note in 1945 as a security feature. The printed black and white notes were replaced from 1957 onward by new, two-sided notes. The first two-sided £5 notes (series B) were blue and featured a bust of Britannia on the front and a lion on the back. Series C notes, first introduced in 1963, were the first notes to feature an image of the monarch on the front, with Britannia being relegated to the back. From 1971 onward, with the introduction of series D, a British historical figure was portrayed on the reverse: the soldier and statesman the Duke of Wellington in this case. Series E notes, first issued in 1990, are multicoloured, although they are predominantly turquoise-blue. These notes feature a portrait of railway pioneer George Stephenson, as well as for the first time 'windowed' metal thread; this thread appears as a dashed line, yet forms a single line when held up to the light.[11]

2002 Varnish Issue[12][13][edit]

In 2002, a problem was identified in which the serial numbers could be rubbed off of some notes. The problem was highlighted after six members of the public complained to The Bank of England; the notes were stopped being distributed by the banks as of request by the Bank of England as well the Post Offices to stop issuing the new £5 notes. The Bank said the move was a "precautionary measure while we carry out further tests and investigative work into what might have caused the fault and how widespread the problem is". The bank consequently did rigorous testing and found the problem to be that the serial numbers were printed over the varnish rather than under it allowing the ink to be removed if enough force was applied. The Bank started to varnish the notes in an attempt to make them last longer than previous notes which only had an estimated lifespan of nine months.

A spokesman for the Bank of England said: "The notes are still legal tender and the public shouldn't have a problem spending them in the shops. As long as shopkeepers check the anti-counterfeit measures, then the lack of serial numbers is not a problem.

"If members of the public are concerned, then they should take the notes back to the bank where they will be exchanged."

Moving to polymer[edit]

In April 2013, the Governor of the Bank of England Sir Mervyn King announced on behalf of the bank that Elizabeth Fry would be replaced by Winston Churchill on the next £5 note[14] which would enter circulation in 2016.[15] It was also announced that the images featured on the reverse would include a 1941 portrait of Churchill by Yusuf Karsh, a view of the Houses of Parliament, a quote by Churchill ("I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat") and a background image of Churchill's Nobel Prize in Literature, while the obverse would feature an image of Queen Elizabeth II.[16]

In December 2013 the Bank of England announced that the next £5 note would be printed on a polymer, rather than cotton paper.[17] The bank cited that they would be cleaner, more secure and more durable.[18] It was also said that the new polymer notes would be more environmentally friendly, lasting 2.5 times as long as cotton paper notes, according to the Bank's own environmental testing.[19]

The note was introduced on 13 September 2016,[20] with an initial print run of 440 million notes (worth £2.2 billion), over the period of co-circulation.[21] It was announced that there would be a co-circulatory period with the old series E notes, and then on 5 May 2017, the series E would cease to be legal tender. However, as with all Bank of England notes, they can be exchanged at face value at any time in the future.[22]


In November 2016 there was controversy when the Bank of England confirmed that the new notes contain traces of tallow in the new notes.[23] According to an online petition on this issue, this is unacceptable to vegans, vegetarians, Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, Jews and other groups in the UK,[24] and one Cambridge cafe boycotted the new note.[25] The note's manufacturer, Innovia Security, was looking into changing the recipe for the polymer used, so as to contain no animal products, which are added to polymer pellets at an early stage of production.[26][27] However, on 10 August 2017 the Bank of England announced that all future notes, including future £5 note prints would continue the use of traces of tallow.[28]


List of historical designs[edit]

Note First issued Last issued Ceased to be
legal tender
Colour Size Design Additional information
White (1793) 1793 1944 1 March 1946 Monochrome
(printed on one side only)
200 × 113 mm
(may vary)
White (1945) 1945 1957 13 March 1961 Monochrome
(printed on one side only)
211 × 133 mm Incorporated metal thread for first time:
permanent feature until the series G polymer note
Series B 21 February 1957 1963 27 June 1967 Blue 158 × 90 mm Front: Helmeted Britannia
Back: Lion
Saint George and the Dragon, with Britannia on the front
Series C 21 February 1963 1971 31 August 1973 Blue 140 × 85 mm Front: Queen Elizabeth II
Back: Seated Britannia
First £5 note to carry portrait of monarch
Series D 11 November 1971 1990 29 November 1991 Predominantly blue 145 × 78 mm Front: Queen Elizabeth II
Back: Duke of Wellington
Series E 7 June 1990 July 2002 21 November 2003 Multicoloured (predominantly turquoise-blue) 135 × 70 mm Front: Queen Elizabeth II
Back: George Stephenson
Notes issued from March 1993 featured the
denomination symbol "£5" in bolder colours
Series E (variant) 21 May 2002 2016 5 May 2017 Multicoloured (predominantly green) 135 × 70 mm Front: Queen Elizabeth II
Back: Elizabeth Fry
Last £5 note issued on paper
Series G (polymer) 13 September 2016 Multicoloured (Turquoise ) 125 × 65 mm Front: Queen Elizabeth II
Back: Winston Churchill
First Bank of England note in polymer

Sources from the Bank of England:[9][11][29]

Current designs[edit]

The series G (polymer) note is the only £5 note that is currently legal tender. The old paper series E was withdrawn, following a co-circulation period with both notes being legal tender which ended on 5 May 2017.[22]


The Bank of England is responsible for printing and issuing notes to ensure a smooth monetary supply across the United Kingdom.[30] It reports the number of notes in circulation at any given time. The £5 note circulation peaked in 1979 before the £50 was re-introduced.

End of Year Value of notes (£) Number in circulation
1979 3,694,000,000 738,800,000
2004 1,025,000,000 205,000,000
2005 1,054,000,000 211,000,000
2006 1,051,000,000 210,000,000
2007 1,100,000,000 220,000,000
2008 1,242,000,000 248,000,000
2009 1,342,000,000 260,000,000
2010 1,245,000,000 249,000,000
2011 1,355,000,000 271,000,000
2012 1,477,000,000 295,000,000
2013 1,526,000,000 305,000,000
2014 1,540,000,000 308,000,000
2015 1,601,000,000 320,000,000
2016 1,645,000,000 329,000,000
2017 1,912,000,000 382,400,000
2018 1,910,000,000 382,000,000

Table sources from the Bank of England Statistics

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Data is for the newer polymer series G banknote.


  1. ^ £5 note: Deadline looms for digging out old paper fivers BBC ( 4 May 2017. Retrieved on 5 May 2017.
  2. ^ Chan, Szu Ping (10 September 2016). "History of British Banknotes". The Telegraph. Retrieved 6 December 2016.
  3. ^ a b Allen, Katie (10 September 2013). "Banknotes: A Short History". The Guardian. Retrieved 6 December 2016.
  4. ^ "BBC – A History of the World – Object : 1793 £5 Note". Retrieved 6 December 2016.
  5. ^ Dunn, Daisy. "From Paper to the 5 pound polymer". The Spectator. Retrieved 6 December 2016.
  6. ^ Crosby, Mark. "The Bank Restriction Act (1797) and Banknote Forgery". Branch Collective.
  7. ^ Morgan, Edward Victor (1943). The Theory and Practice of Central Banking, 1797–1913. CUP.
  8. ^ Newby, Elisa (2007). "The Suspension of cash payments as a monetary reigime" (PDF). Centre for Dynamic Macroeconomic Analysis. The University of St. Andrews.
  9. ^ a b "A brief history of banknotes". Bank of England. Retrieved 27 April 2016.
  10. ^ Kitson, Michael (2012). "End of an Epoch: Britain's Withdrawal from the Gold Standard" (PDF). University of Cambridge. Retrieved 11 December 2016.
  11. ^ a b "Withdrawn banknotes reference guide" (PDF). Bank of England. Retrieved 27 April 2016.
  12. ^ "Bank suspends new £5 notes". Retrieved 6 September 2017.
  13. ^ Moore, By Malcolm. "New fiver's numbers can rub off". Retrieved 6 September 2017.
  14. ^ King, Mervyn (26 April 2016). "Speech from Mervyn King on New 5 Pound Note Character" (PDF). Bank of England. Retrieved 6 September 2016.
  15. ^ "Sir Winston Churchill to feature on new banknote". BBC News. Retrieved 27 April 2016.
  16. ^ "News Release – Sir Winston Churchill: the historical figure on the next banknote". Bank of England. 26 April 2013. Retrieved 6 December 2016.
  17. ^ "New banknotes to be printed on polymer". Bank of England. Retrieved 27 April 2016.
  18. ^ "Why are new banknotes made of polymer?". Bank of England. Retrieved 7 March 2020.
  19. ^ "Life Cycle Assessment of Paper and Polymer Notes" (PDF). Bank of England. 6 September 2013. Retrieved 6 December 2016.
  20. ^ "The New Fiver is issued today – Bank of England". Bank of England.
  21. ^ Butterly, Ameilia (13 September 2016). "New polymer £5 note is out today – here's where you're likely to see it first". BBC Newsbeat. Retrieved 24 December 2016.
  22. ^ a b "Polymer FAQ". Bank of England. Retrieved 6 December 2016. How long can I continue to use paper £5 notes? You can continue to use the paper £5 note until its legal tender status is withdrawn on 5 May 2017.
  23. ^ "Bank of England urged to make new £5 note vegan-friendly". The Guardian. 29 November 2016. Retrieved 29 November 2016.
  24. ^ Petroff, Alanna (29 November 2016). "The U.K.'s new £5 notes contain animal fat". CNNMoney. Retrieved 12 August 2017.
  25. ^ "Cambridge Rainbow vegetarian cafe refuses new £5 note – BBC News". BBC Online. 3 December 2016. Retrieved 3 December 2016.
  26. ^ "Bank Of England's Note Supplier Working On 'Potential Solutions' To Animal Fat Fivers". The Huffington Post. 1 December 2016. Retrieved 22 December 2016.
  27. ^ Butler, Katie (1 December 2016). "Bank of England will look at making new fivers vegan-friendly". Manchester Evening News. Retrieved 22 December 2016.
  28. ^ Peachey, Kevin (10 August 2017). "Animal fat to stay in future banknotes, Bank of England concludes". BBC News. Retrieved 12 August 2017.
  29. ^ "The New Fiver". Bank of England. Retrieved 2 June 2016.
  30. ^ "What we do – Banknotes". Bank of England. Retrieved 22 December 2016.

External links[edit]