Old English money – pounds, shillings and pence before decimalisation

By , August 27, 2009 1:51 am


Countries now tend to have 100 thingy-ma-bobs to the what-cha-call-it.  Whether it’s 100 cents to the dollar, 100 pennies to the pound, or 100 centime to the franc, base 10 is where it’s all at with currency.

But until recently in the United Kingdom, easy-to-add decimal currency was foreign. From the Anglo-Saxons in the Dark Ages up until 1971, it was far more complicated than that!

Names for different amounts changed over the centuries – no-one was talking about a noble or a groat in 1970. But pounds, shillings and pence had been in place for more than 1,000 years.

A sovereign minted in 1558, during the reign of Elizabeth I

A sovereign minted in 1558, during the reign of Elizabeth I

This article is about old English money, and in memory of the school children who sweated over “money sums” in English schools.

Pounds, shillings and pence

A pound was made up of 20 shillings, and a shilling was 12 pennies. So £1 was 240 pence. Not the easiest of figures to use on calculators, and hence, decimalisation in 1971.

Amounts of money were written as l s d, for pounds, shillings and pence.  5s was 5 shillings, often just written as 5/-. And 5s 6d was 5 shillings and sixpence – and was often, instead, written as 5/6.  “Shillings” was written as “s” from the Latin word solidus , and pennies or pence was written as “d” from the Latin word denarius. These were both old Roman coins.

A half crown from the first year of Elizabeth II's reign, 1953

A half crown from the first year of Elizabeth II's reign, 1953

In spoken English, the “shilling” word was often missed out – so a shopkeeper might say, “that’ll be 5 and 6, please”, meaning 5 shillings and six pence.

Names of different amounts of currency

A one shilling piece from 1956, used as a 5p piece until 1990

A one shilling piece from 1956, used as a 5p piece until 1990

It wasn’t as simple as pounds, shillings and pence, though.

Lots of different small amounts of money had their own names. Some were obvious – such as “thruppence” for three pence, some much less obvious, such as “tanner” for six pence.

Here is a list of those in common use in the couple of decades before decimalisation:

Quid – pound. Still used today, and has no plural. So you have one quid, and ten quid

Crown – 5 s. Not usually issued as an actual coin, except for commemorations, but used as a unit in common language

A sixpence, or tanner. Used as 2.5 pence until 1980.

A sixpence, or tanner. Used as 2.5 pence until 1980.

Half-crown – 2/6

Florin – 2s

Bob – 1s

Tanner – 6d

Joey, thruppence or thrup’ney bit – 3d

Hapney – 1/2d, prounced “HAYP-nee”

Farthing – 1/4d

Guineas, sovereigns and half-sovereigns

The guinea

Guinea coins were produced between 1663 and 1813, and bizarrely, the value of it fluctuated according to the relative prices of gold and silver.

Although no guineas were minted as normal coins after 1818, the term continued to be used, although it became a fixed sum of 1 pound and 1 shilling, or 21s. Prices were still sometimes quoted in guineas – when my father entered pupillage to become a barrister, the price payable was 100 guineas, or £105.

The term continued to be used for snooty puposes after decimalisation (now meaning £1.05 instead of £1 1s), such as fine wine buying or tailor-made suits. It is used to this day in horse trading, and a number of horse races still have the word “Guinea” in the title , indicating the original value of the prize.

Sovereigns and half-sovereigns

These were gold coins, produced when the pound was still tied to the gold standard. They were worth £1 and 10s respectively. These are still produced to this day, although they don’t contain much gold for £1-worth!

Continued use of old coins after 1971

A 1932 florin, worth 2 shillings. Used as a 10p coin from 1971 to 1994

A 1932 florin, worth 2 shillings. Used as a 10p coin from 1971 to 1994

A number of pre-decimal coins were used for many years after decimalisation. The florin, or 2s, became worth 10 new pence, and the shilling became worth 5 new pence.

The coins themselves were the same – so as a child and teenager (I was born at the end of the 1970s), if I wanted to pay for something costing 10p, I could quite happily use a 1935 florin.

The sixpence, now worth 2.5 new pence, was used until 1980.

The shilling, now worth 5 new pence, was used until 1990

The florin, or two shilling coin, was worth 10 new pence, and was used until 1994.

The Ashes cricket matches – the importance of the England v Australia test matches

By , August 24, 2009 4:00 am

The history of the Ashes cricket matches, one of the great sporting rivalries

Cricket is, perhaps, one of those sports you either understand, or you are mystified by. The Ashes test series is  the biggest event in the English cricket calendar, and one of the most fiercely-contested international cricket events.

Even people who don’t follow cricket much as a general rule, pay serious attention when the test matches come along, every other year.

The series started from a sarcastic newspaper comment in 1882, when Australia beat England for the first time on English soil, at The Oval, a cricket ground in London, just south of the Thames.

The mock obituary annoucing the death of English Cricket in 1882

The mock obituary annoucing the death of English Cricket in 1882

The Sporting Times published an obituary about the death of English cricket, stating that “the body will be cremated and the ashes taken to Australia”. When the English test team toured Australia in the next-but-one Australian summer, the English papers talked about “the quest to regain The Ashes”.

Taking the joke to extreme lengths, some Australian women presented the then-English cricket captain with an urn, containing ashes, variously said to be the ashes of wickets, bats, or bails. The captain’s widow later gave the urn and ashes to the Marylebone Cricket Club at Lord’s test cricket ground, where it remains to this day.

Since 1882, the English and Australian cricket teams have played each other on their home ground every other year, taking it in terms to host the series of test matches. Thus it was last held in England in the summer of 2005, and again this summer, 2009.

What is a test match?

There are currently ten test match teams. They are England, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Zimbabwe (suspended for political reasons), Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and the West Indies.  Kenya is a future test country, and has been so since 2003. It has yet to become one, though.

A test match lasts for a maximum of 5 days, and it’s quite possible, after that time, to have a draw.  If one side wins, it can finish earlier. For example, the concluding and decisive test in the 2009 Ashes series ended late on Day Four, when England won both the test and the series.

Each side, consisting of 11 people, has 2 innings. An innings does not last for a determined time, but until 10 players are declared “out”, or the team “declares”, which means they think they have a high enough score and let the other side have a turn, so that they can try to get that side out, and win.

The team who is batting sends 2 players onto the ground, one at each end of the wicket. The fielding team has all 11 players on the ground, bowling, fielding, and wicket-keeping.  6 balls are bowled from one end of the wicket, which makes an over. After the over, the players switch sides and the next over is bowled from the other end.

The fourth test in the 1933 Ashes series, at Brisbane, Australia.

The fourth test in the 1933 Ashes series, at Brisbane, Australia.

A player can be out if he is bowled (the ball hits the wickets, the sticks with bails on top which he is defending), if he is caught, meaning he hits it and someone catches it before it touches the ground, if he is run out, or if he is leg-before-wicket (LBW) meaning that the ball hits his leg when it would otherwise have hit the wicket, had the leg not been in the way.

The batsmen score runs.  If one of them hits the ball, they both run between the wickets, swapping ends, and that is one run. If  they have time before the ball is fielded, they can run up to 6 times and score 6 runs.

The batsmen can also score runs without having to run, if they hit the ball hard and far enough. If it goes over the boundary without having touched the ground since it left the bat, that’s 6 runs. If it touches the ground first, that’s 4.

If the wicket is knocked over by the ball, either thrown by a fielder or held by one, while the batsman is not close enough, he is run out.

In order to win a test match, the team has to both score more runs that the other team, and also bowl them all out twice.

So, for example, in the Oval test which finished today,  the match score was “England 332 & 373-9 d bt Australia 160 & 348 by 197 runs”. That means that England, who batted first, got 332 runs in their first innings, all out. They carried on batting until 10 of the 11 players were out, which is the end of the innings, as you need 2 batsmen, one at each end.  Australia were 160 runs all out in their first innings.

In the second innings, England got 373 runs, and 9 batsmen were out. They then “declared”, meaning that they thought they had enough runs to win, and therefore wanted a chance to bowl the Aussies out and win the test match. In their second innings, Australia were all out for 348, and therefore lost by 197 runs.

A test match is usually played for 6 hours a day, in sessions of 2 hours each. The morning session is followed by lunch, then another 2 hour session follows, with the third taking place after tea. If it is raining, play stops, and if time’s been lost because of bad weather, they might play longer on other days.

So what is the Ashes series, today?

The Ashes series has involved, over the last 130-odd years, a varying number of matches. It has been fixed for some time at 5 test matches, which each last a maximum of 5 days.

The 5 test matches are held in 5 different places. In England, one is always at Lord’s, and the last at the Oval. Other commonly-used grounds are Edgbaston (Birmingham), Headingly (Leeds) Old Trafford (Manchester) and Trent Bridge (Nottinghamshire). This year, the first test was played in Cardiff, the first time the ground has been used for an Ashes test.

The 2009 Ashes series

ENGLAND WON! That’s the important thing, anyway. They regained the Ashes after having been frankly thrashed in Australia, in the 2006-2007 series.

Two tests ended in a draw, one in an Australian win, and two, including the final, with an English win.


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