On this day in history….15th February 1971

On this day in history….15th February 1971 – Britain wakes up to ‘D-Day’ and a new currency – over the next 18 months the old pounds, shillings and pennies are to be phased out….

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Known as Decimal Day it was the time to say goodbye to the currency system that had been with us for over 1,000 years…. the old system dated back to Roman times when a pound of silver was divided into 240 denarius – which is where we got the old ‘d’ for a penny….

12 pennies to a shilling, 20 shillings to a pound was to be replaced by 100 pennies to a pound instead of the 240 pennies people were used to…. It was to be out with the guineas, crowns, half crowns and threepenny bits….to be superseded by a system inspired by Napoleonic France….

The USA and France had gone decimal in the 1790s…. Britain had considered doing so during the 1820s but had not proceeded…. The closest we got was when a florin worth 2 shillings was introduced in 1849 – 24d or 10 new pence…. It was followed by a double florin in 1887….

In the 1960s a number of commonwealth countries had gone decimal including New Zealand, Australia and South Africa. Although previous British governments had shied away from taking the plunge – because of the amount of disruption it would cause – in the end it took a conversation lasting just 20 seconds, between the then Prime Minister Harold Wilson and Chancellor of the Exchequer Jim Callaghan, to start the ball rolling….

The decision was announced in Parliament in 1966 and a Decimal Currency Board was set up to manage the transition…. The DCB ran a public information campaign – and currency converters were made available to everybody….

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From the Sainsbury Archive at the Museum of London, Docklands via Martin Deutsch via Flickr

The first coins were introduced in 1968 with the new 5p and 10p pieces, which were the same size and value as the old shilling and two-shilling coins…. As it was engineered to be a gradual change-over a further coin was introduced in 1969 – the 50p – to replace the ten bob (shilling) note….

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Ten Bob note – Ian May via Flickr

People referred to it as the ‘ten shilling coin’…. Then on Decimal Day itself, 15th February 1971, the last of the new coins were brought in – the 0.5p, 1p and 2p….

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14th October 1969 – New 50p coin. Credit: Bradford Timeline via Flickr

Banks closed for four days beforehand to prepare – and at first prices were shown in shops in both currencies….Some people had feared shopkeepers might use it as a way to increase prices…. The elderly generation especially found it more difficult to adapt….but generally the change-over went without a hitch….

The old penny, half penny and threepenny bit officially went out of circulation in August 1971….but there was one particular coin that stayed with us right up until 1980…. Such affection did the British public have for the sixpence that they campaigned to keep it….as it was deemed as being part of our heritage….

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Sixpence – Anakin101 via Wikimedia

 

On this day in history….7th February 1974

On this day in history : 7th February 1974 – Prime Minister Edward Heath calls a snap general election and appeals to the miners to suspend their planned strike action….

The 1970s was a decade of power cuts and blackouts, it became a way of life; anything that depended on electricity, industrial or domestic, faced disruption….img_2350

It was a time of discontent throughout much of British industry…. The miners’ dispute had begun in 1971 with a disagreement with the Government over pay…. The National Union of Miners demanded a 43% pay increase, whilst the Government were offering between 7-8%…. In late 1971 the miners voted to take action if their demands were not met…. On the 5th of January 1972 the NUM rejected the pay offer made to them and four days later miners from all over the Country came out on strike….the first time they had done so since 1926….

To start with the miners were to picket coal power stations – but then started to target all power stations….along with coal depots, steelworks and ports…. Dockers supported them by refusing to unload coal from ships….

On the 9th of February 1972 s state of emergency was declared and a 3-day working week introduced to try and conserve electricity…. On the 19th, after much negotiation an agreement was reached with the Government – on the 25th of February the miners accepted an offer and returned to work three days later….

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Markham Colliery – Image: Jabsco via Flickr

This now made the miners some of the highest paid industrial workers…. However, it did not take long for other industries to catch-up and overtake…. By 1973 the miners had gone down to 18th position in the industrial wages league….

The miners realised the strong position they were in – their previous action proving the importance of coal to the nation…. In addition, this time oil prices were soaring because of troubles in the Middle East – and the Unions were hostile towards the Government, who were trying to introduce pay freezes to help the economy….

In late 1973 the miners voted once again to take industrial action if their demands for a further pay increase were not met…. Talks reached stalemate – and with the severe economic circumstances of the Country at the time – Edward Heath was prompted to announce a general election for the 28th of February 1974….appealing at the same time to the miners to suspend their action….

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Edward Heath – Open Media Ltd CC BY-SA 3.0

The miners walked out on strike (supported by other Unions) on the 9th of February; a state of emergency was declared and a 3-day working week reintroduced….

The general election saw a Conservative defeat, leaving Harold Wilson to lead a minority Labour Government…. The miners and new Government came to an agreement and the strike ended on the 19th of February…. The miners returned back to work on the 25th, victorious with a 29% pay deal….