6 December 2018

How Does the Bank of England Choose Who Gets to Feature on Banknotes?

We all use banknotes and we know that each note features a famous person on the back. But have you given any thought to how and why that person gets to appear on a banknote?

From William Shakespeare in 1970 to JMW Turner in 2016

Famous people first started appearing on our banknotes in 1970 to celebrate the positive influence they have had on our society. Today, whether this influence comes through leadership, values or innovation, the Bank of England looks for British people from different backgrounds and fields who reflect the diversity in modern-day Britain. They never use fictional characters or anyone who is still living.

Since 2014, a new method of selecting banknote characters has been in operation. An advisory committee decide on the field to be represented and then nominations for the ‘person’ is opened up to the public. The first nomination was for a character to represent the visual arts. Nominations included artists from a wide range of disciplines from painting, sculpting and printing to design, ceramics and film.

Once nominated the candidates are assessed by specialist focus groups to ascertain which of the nominations would be a positive choice and which have the potential to be poorly received.

Detailed historical research is also carried out to support the nominations before a final shortlist is drawn up which is then presented to the Bank of England’s Governor for the final decision. In this instance, the esteemed artist JMW Turner was chosen to appear on the £20 note.

The Case for Ada Lovelace as a Future Nomination

So, let’s take a look at how we would put forward a case for someone to appear on a banknote. Let’s say that the field is mathematics or computing. And that a nomination for Augusta Ada King, Countess of Lovelace has been put forward.

Would she be a suitable candidate?

Ada Lovelace was the daughter of Lord Byron, and as an English mathematician and writer of some note, she certainly qualifies as an influential woman. Known to be an extremely talented mathematician, Ada worked on the Analytical Engine, Charles Babbage’s proposed mechanical general-purpose computer. Her claim to fame was recognising that this machine could go beyond pure calculation and publishing the first complex algorithm in 1843 to be used by a machine of this nature.

While fellow mathematician Charles Babbage earned the title of ‘the father of computers’, Ada is often called the first computer programmer and is regarded by many to be the first mathematician to identify and recognise the full potential of this kind of machine.

As you can see, Ada was extremely influential in the development of computers, and there’s no denying that modern living depends on computing systems for everything from looking after our money and helping us to spend it to defence, design and more.

Added to this, she was a woman working in a male-dominated arena at a time when women were supposed to stay at home. In fact, her work has been so influential that in 1980 the United States Department of Defense named a computer language ‘Ada’ after her.

Written Out of History, Ada is Now Back in the Limelight

Perhaps you haven’t heard of Ada, and that’s no surprise as her contribution was written out of history.

However, the show Ada.Ada.Ada has been bringing her work back into the limelight all across the UK with the help of an LED dress to encourage people, especially females, to look towards technology and stem as a career. It’s now set to tour libraries and different venues across the UK, and it’s planned to take the show across the world to Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Tanzania.

Ada’s name is associated with many awards for computing and digital skills, including the Lovelace Medal awarded by the British Computing Society and her achievements are used to raise the profile of women in science, technology, maths and engineering.

From all this information we can assume that she would be an extremely good fit for appearing on the back of one of our banknotes and that her nomination would make it all the way to the short list.