The Bank of England is set to unveil the design for the latest £5 note on Thursday at Blenheim Palace, the birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill – who features on the new notes. The notes will be the first to be printed on a polymer – a thin plastic that is much more durable than the current paper notes.
The new design will feature Sir Winston Churchill instead of Elizabeth Fry, the 19th century prison reformer, who is currently on the notes. The new notes will also be about 15% smaller than the current ones and their new material means that they will repel dirt and moisture.
The plastic notes will be able to survive a 90C cycle in a washing machine. Around 440m of the notes will be introduced into circulation in September, with polymer versions of other notes coming soon after.
After it was announced that Elizabeth Fry would no longer be on the £5 note, thousands signed a petition to protest that famous women would no longer feature on English bank notes. Jane Austin was subsequently announced as the face of the new £10.
The new £20 note will feature artist JMW Turner and will be in circulation by 2020. The bank has not decided whether or not a polymer £50 note will also be issued.
Speaking to the Sunday Times, chief cashier for the Bank of England, Victoria Cleland said that members of the public who had seen the new notes had said they were "cool": "They often said, 'Wow, that's really cool.' You don't often get 'cool' and 'the Bank of England' in the same sentence. They are more modern and I think they're beautiful."
She also told the paper that though the notes can withstand a wash, it's best not to keep doing it: "Yes, you can put them through washing machines, but we're not encouraging people to do that. We didn't design them to go into washing machines: it is a fortunate by-product that they are more resilient. But clearly if you keep doing it at high temperatures you are going to destroy the poor note."
Thirty other countries use polymer bank notes including Australia and New Zealand. English notes have been made from cotton paper since 1694.