Remember Decimal Day? 50 years on from currency changing forever

Decimalisation at a Norwich bakery in 1971

Getting to grips with the new coins at a Norwich bakers on the first day of decimalisation fifty years ago on 15th February 1971. - Credit: Archant Library

On February 15, 1971 - 50 years ago to this day - decimalisation arrived.

At the time Decimal Day was referred to as 'D Day' but the change to UK currency had nothing to do with landing on French beaches. Instead, we swapped bobs, tanners, florins, half-crowns, shillings and thrupenny bits for pounds and pence. 

Decimal Day at Key Markets in Norwich

On February 15, 1971, after generations of pounds, shillings and pence the UK currency went decimal. Pictured: 'D-Day' at Key Markets in Norwich. Date: February 15, 1971. - Credit: Archant Library

For hundreds of years, our currency hinged on there being 12 pence in a shilling. There were 20 shillings in a pound - or, 240 pence. 

Old coins that were UK currency before decimalisation in the 1971.

Old coins that were UK currency before decimalisation in the 1971. - Credit: Archant Library

The shift on Decimal Day brought in a system based on units of 10 - a change many countries across the world had already made.

Decimal coins were released into circulation three years earlier in 1968 to give people a chance to adapt. But some coins were similarly sized or valued and it caused confusion for many. 

New coins on Decimal Day at a local shop in Norwich

Mrs Jean Buttifant helps a shopper comes to terms with the new coins and currency at the till of her shop on Swansea Road in Norwich. Date: February 15, 1971. - Credit: Archant Library

Readers might remember that banks were not open on weekends at the time but they were also shut for the Thursday and Friday before Decimal Day to prepare and convert people's accounts.

But how did we fare with the change here in Norfolk?

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Large department stores like Bonds and Curls in Norwich dual-priced goods and printed off conversion charts to help shop assistants at the tills.  

Old money cash registers at Bonds in Norwich

An army of 'old money' cash registers being retired at Bonds in Norwich. Date: February 15, 1971. - Credit: Archant Library

Retail staff across Norfolk received extra training in the weeks leading up to the shift. Some shops insisted that customers use decimal currency in the days leading up to the official change over.

One aspect of pre-D Day life stayed the same, at least for a while. You could still 'spend a penny' at public toilets using old money because it took some time for the locks to be changed on the doors.

Accounts staff at Curls department store in Norwich sort out boxes of new coins.

Accounts staff at Curls department store in Norwich sort out boxes of new coins. Date: February 15, 1971. - Credit: Archant Library

 

The editorial comment in the Eastern Daily Press from Decimal Day declared:

A particular problem of our change-over, however, has been that it is one of those situations in which grandmothers and the older generation generally are being politely shown by their school-aged juniors how—well, if not to suck eggs, at least to buy them in the new coinage.

In response to this particular problem, some smaller local shops encouraged older customers to visit at slower times of the day for a little bit of practice with the new coins. 

It may have caused some confusion or disruption at the time, yet as the editorial comment noted on the day: 

But when the change is for the better, when it serves to make everyday living that little bit more simple, one can expect the fuss to die down soon enough.

Contact benjamin.craske@archant.co.uk if you have memories of Decimal Day and would like to share them.  

To revisit old editorial comments and articles about events like this from our archives subscribe to Local Recall and explore our archives from your computer or voice-activated devices. Click here to learn more. 



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