Letter from the Bank of England (15-Mar-1999)

15 March 1999.

Ms M V Lowther
Deputy Director and Chief Cashier

Dear Mr Carter

Thank you for your recent letter about the choice of figures depicted on banknotes and your kind thoughts on my appointment.

The choice of historical person to portray on the reverse of Bank of England banknotes is, as I am sure you can appreciate, a difficult one. As Mr Kentfield outlined in his previous letter, the Bank considers very carefully the figures it chooses to depict on its banknotes and there are a number of criteria the Bank has to consider.

British historical figures have been depicted on the back of our notes since 1970 with the advent of what we refer to as the D Series, which was completed in 1981. The theme of historical figures was continued with the current E Series of notes, issued between 1990 and 1994. When the overall design for the current series was first drawn up in the 1980s, a list of over 70 possible names was researched. This covered a considerable number of British men and women from almost every field of endeavour, whose achievements would merit commemoration in the design of one of the Bank's notes.

You remarked particularly on the choices of Sir John Houblon and Edward Elgar. The current £50 note was first introduced in April 1994. To mark the 300th anniversary of the founding of the Bank of England in 1694, the Bank thought it appropriate to choose its first Governor, Sir John Houblon, to depict on the reverse of the note beside a scene of his house in Threadneedle Street.

When considering the choice of figure to replace Michael Faraday on the reverse of the new £20 note, we decided that the character should not be drawn from the same field as another already celebrated on existing notes. This, I am afraid, militated against choosing a scientist or, indeed, an author. We were also aware that the field of British music had, to date, been unrepresented on our banknotes.

I do understand the reasons for your advocacy, both in 1994 and again now, of Charles Darwin's claim to be included. However, with only four denominations to design for, it is inevitable that, whichever historical characters the Bank selects for use, many members of the public will not find amongst them the particular favourites they hold, justifiably, in high regard.

In answer to your postscript, I can confirm that members of the audience which are caught in the spotlight at Faraday's Royal Institute Christmas Lecture, on the reverse of the £20 note, do bear a striking resemblance to members of the Bank's design team. This was done, partly to introduce an element of variety into the mass of faces portrayed therein; and partly (I suspect) to put a "personal signature" on the note design.

The Bank always welcomes comments and suggestions from the general public and I am grateful to you for yours, which you may be assured will be borne in mind for the future.

Yours sincerely,

Merlyn Lowther