50. Fifty in the United Kingdom during the Fifties
APR. 28, 2022
It’s a whirlwind trip to four different nations that make up the United Kingdom in this special ‘on the road’ celebratory 50th Episode. Ryan and Pete set out to personally visit England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and investigate the people and places found on the various fifty pound notes. Don’t forget your passport! (just kidding, you don’t need a passport).
‘50’ in The United Kingdom during The Fifties.
To celebrate the 50th Episode, Pete and Ryan hit the road in search of the people and places that can be found on the various £50 notes available today.
Why the UK? It’s the 50th country in Europe alphabetically.
The UK actually goes by many names, often used interchangeably, and it also consists of four different nations as well, so to clear that up:
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is the formal name of the country. Techncially Great Britain is a geographical entity –the main island without Northern Ireland, but as a word it is often used to mean the UK. And it consists of four nations, England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales.
The country is home to 65million people (so a couple of million less than France), all living in an area less than half a France.
In this episode, in order to cover the topic of 50 in the period ‘the fifties’ the boys chose the medium of money – specifically the £50 note.
Comprising 84% of the population of the United Kingdom, England is frequently the dominant force of the UK, including when it comes to money. The Bank of England is the central bank of the United Kingdom and has issued banknotes since 1694.
In 1921 it gained a legal monopoly on the issue of banknotes in England and Wales, although not Scotland and Northern Ireland.
The Bank of England issued a newly-designed note featuring Alan Turing was on 23 June 2021, the same day as Turing’s birthday. A fact which took Ryan and Pete to Bletchley Park, where Alan Turing conducted much of his ground-breaking work in codebreaking for the Allies during the war.
Turing was born in 1912 and was a mathematician, computer scientist, logician, cryptanalyst, philosopher, and theoretical biologist. He obtained a degree in maths from Cambridge and a PhD from Princeton, which took him, in the Second World War, to work for the Government Code and Cypher School (GC&CS) at Bletchley Park, a stately home, 50 miles North of London.
There he led Hut 8 where the team devised a number of techniques for speeding the breaking of German ciphers.
After the war, Turing worked at the National Physical Laboratory, then went on In 1948 to join the Victoria University of Manchester, where he helped develop the Manchester computers.
But the Turing name lives on more generally in the Turing Test. This came from "Computing Machinery and Intelligence", a seminal paper written by Alan Turing on the topic of artificial intelligence.
This paper asks the question ‘can a machine think’ and approaches the question through the medium of a test. This consists of 3 players in different rooms with just a terminal in front of them. Player a is a human, player b is a computer and player c is a human judge.
The judge can type questions to both players and both players can type to the judge. The Judge can ask anything and the players must answer. If the Judge cannot tell who is the human and who is the computer, then the theory went, that perhaps, indeed, computers can ‘think’.
Despite all this, he was never fully recognised by the UK in his lifetime because much of his work was covered by the Official Secrets Act. And much worse than that, in 1952 Turing was prosecuted for homosexual acts, found out when admitting he had a male partner whilst reporting having been burgled.
To avoid prison he accepted hormone treatment aka chemical castration and on 7 June 1954, 16 days before his 42nd birthday, his housekeeper found him at his home, dead from cyanide poisoning. An inquest determined that it was suicide.
This unhappy ending does have something of a happier postscript. In 2009, there was a petition of more than 30,000 signatures which led to Gordon Brown, the British PM making an official public apology for the way Turing was treated and in 2013 the queen granted Turing a posthumous pardon. On top of this, in 2017 a new law in the UK that retroactively pardoned men after historical convictions for homosexual acts became known informally as the Alan Turing Law.
Scotland is able to issue its own banknotes, so you will notice different money as you cross the border. But, interestingly, they are issued not by a central bank, but by three different retail banks. Bank of Scotland, Royal Bank of Scotland and the Cydesdale Bank. The last of these features Scottish hero, Elsie Inglis.
Dr Elsie Inglis, was born in India but returned to Scotland to be educated in Edinburgh schools, then on to Parisian finishing school. In 1887 she became one of the first students at the new Edinburgh School of Medicine for Women and in1892, she obtained the Triple Qualification - Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh, the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh and the Faculty of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow.
Elsie worked in a pioneering women’s hospital in London, then a leading Dublin maternity hospital, the Rotunda before returning to Edinburgh in 1894 to team up with Dr Jessie McLaren MacGregor, to create ‘the hospice’ , a maternity hospital for poor women of Edinburgh.
The facility was run by an all-female staff, offering accident and general service as well as maternity and featured an operating theatre and eight beds in premises at 219 High Street on the Royal Mile.
Inglis also became involved in the Suffrage movement and worked with Millicent Fawcett, the leader of the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies (the NUWSS).
When World War One started, Elsie was in her fifties and she established the Scottish Women's Hospitals for Foreign Service – funded by suffrage movement, staffed by women, and establishing hospitals serving the allied wounded.
To start the project, she opened a fund with £100 of her own money. Eventually they sent 14 medical teams to Belgium, France, Serbia and Russia.
Actually serving in camps herself, In 1915 she was captured and was repatriated in 1916, from where she immediately returned to the war until she was forced by ill health to return to the UK, where she sadly died.
In Northern Ireland, there are in fact four retail banks that are authorised to issue banknotes. Bank of Ireland (UK) plc, Northern Bank Limited (trades as Danske Bank), National Westminster Bank plc (trades as Ulster Bank in Northern Ireland) and AIB Group (UK) plc (previously trading as First Trust Bank in Northern Ireland).
As in Scotland, Northern Irish retail banks issuing notes are obliged by law to set aside assets that are worth at least the value of all of the banknotes they have in circulation. To do this, the Bank of England issues currency notes of huge values, including £1 million banknotes (known as Giants) and £100 million banknotes (known as Titans).
Until April 2008, all Bank of Ireland notes featured Queen's University of Belfast on the reverse side and in 2008 a new series of £5, £10 and £20 notes was issued in May 2008, all featuring an illustration of the Old Bushmills Distillery.
This Distillery is in County Antrim, 57 miles outside Belfast in the village of Bushmills. The area draws water from a tributary of the river Bush, hence the name and in 1608, a licence was granted to Sir Thomas Phillips by King James I to distil whiskey.
In the 1850s a tax on grains was increased. Malted barley is an essential component of whiskey, and many distilleries started to use corn or other grains instead of barley to keep costs down. Bushmills did not – instead holdling to the formula that had made them successful, and maintaining, as a result, a reputation for quality.
In 1885, the Bushmills buildings were destroyed by fire but they were rapidly rebuilt, such that they won the only gold medal for whiskey in Paris in 1889 and in 1890, a steamship owned and operated by the distillery, SS Bushmills, made its maiden voyage across the Atlantic to deliver Bushmills whiskey to America.
Wales, with a population of 3,153,000 and its own language is the only country that does not issue its own notes, instead being covered by the remit of the Bank of England.
There was almost a Bank of Wales, though. On Saturday, 7 September 1968 a meeting between a Financier named John Ellis and George Thomas, Secretary of State for Wales suggested the idea, but it was not pursued.
What was pursued was a bank under the auspirces of a financier named Julian Hodge.
So the panel approved the founding of the Bank of Wales in 1971. But it never got to use that name, as it was not ever a central bank though. It was a private investment bank intended to provided commercial banking services to small and medium-sized businesses in Wales. From the start the Bank of England and the Registrar of companies objected to calling it the Bank of Wales, saying it sounded like a central bank, so the bank started life as Commercial Bank of Wales (Welsh: Banc Masnachol Cymru).
They got their wish in the end though and the bank was officially renamed Bank of Wales in December 1986.
Eventually the bank of Wales was taken over by the Bank of Scotland in 1986 and ceased trading under the Welsh brand in 2002.