Jane Austen is to replace Charles Darwin on the £10 note, joining nurse Florence Nightingale and prison reformer Elizabeth Fry as the third woman to appear on a banknote since historical figures began featuring on paper money in the 1970s.
It had previously been announced that Sir Winston Churchill would be put on £5 notes from 2016 in place of Fry, but this would have left – apart from the Queen – an all-male line-up on all banknotes (economist Adam Smith is on the £20 note and engineers Matthew Boulton and James Watt, plus first governor of the Bank of England, Sir John Houblon, are on the £50).
This possibility prompted a public outcry.
There was a 35,000-strong petition, spear-headed by journalist Caroline Criado-Perez, and campaigners dressed as inspirational female characters, like warrior Boudicca and Suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst, held a “celebration of women” outside the bank’s door.
As a result, the bank agreed to look again at the way it chooses historical characters, inviting members of the public to email in with suggestions on how it can make changes.
Sadly, in the days following this decision, some campaigners were bombarded with abuse on Twitter. But overall, the victory was hailed by campaigners as a triumph for women and for people power.
The Bank of England has been issuing banknotes for over 300 years and, while society and the role of women in it has changed greatly in that time, the bank’s role of maintaining public confidence in the currency has remained key.
The bank regularly changes the designs on its notes to combat problems such as counterfeiting and maintain quality.
For its part, the bank has said that it never intended that none of the four characters on its notes would be a woman.
It had signalled, before new governor Mark Carney took up the job, that Austen was the leading candidate to appear on the tenner as and when it was changed.
So how are historic characters currently selected to appear on banknotes?
The criteria for the historic characters eventually chosen includes looking at whether the person has made a universally recognised and lasting contribution, whether they are a household name and ensuring that the choice is not controversial.
The governor takes the final decision on the advice of bank officials, although members of the public have a say in the early stages, and are invited to submit suggestions.
Some of the names previously put forward by members of the public for the bank’s consideration conjure up some interesting mental images of what future banknotes might look like.
A list of suggestions offered by members of the public on the bank’s website, which is regularly updated, includes Robbie Williams, David Beckham, Sir Mick Jagger, Stephen Hawking, Audrey Hepburn, Sir David Attenborough, Oscar Wilde, George Orwell, Beatrix Potter, the Bronte sisters and Katie Price, aka Jordan.
The bank says it welcomes all suggestions as they inform its decision-making process when a new design for a banknote is being considered.
Characters do not have to be dead but it helps – as the “lasting contribution” requirement means that living candidates are less likely to make it onto a note.
The bank also reserves the right not to include suggestions, in particular if these are “made up” fictional characters or names which the bank considers may cause offence.
The bank says on its website: “We know that the public have great pride in Bank of England banknotes and that there is much interest in the characters that are featured. We therefore plan to continue to feature characters on our notes.
“In doing so we will continue to be mindful of the need to ensure that our notes represent a diverse range of characters, both now and in the longer term.”
Members of the public can make suggestions to the Bank on how it can improve its note selection processes by emailing:
Who has been on the Bank of England’s notes?
Here is a list of the historical figures who have appeared over the last 30 years, with the denomination and year of withdrawal:
£1, Isaac Newton, 1988.
£5, Duke of Wellington, 1991.
£5, George Stephenson, 2003.
£5, Elizabeth Fry, current note.
£10, Florence Nightingale, 1994.
£10, Charles Dickens, 2003.
£10 Charles Darwin, current note.
£20, William Shakespeare, 1993.
£20, Michael Faraday, 2001.
£20, Sir Edward Elgar, 2010.
£20, Adam Smith, current note.
£50, Sir Christopher Wren, 1996.
£50, Sir John Houblon, current note.
£50, Matthew Boulton and James Watt, current note.