February 15th 1971 saw the UK move its money to the decimal system.
The Old System
Before decimalisation the UK used the Empirical System.
£1 = 20 shillings(s)
1s = 12 pence(d)
Therefore £1 = 240d.
A variety of coins (now no longer used) were also in circulation:
half crown = 1/8 pound (2.5s)
farthing = 1/4d
A Long Time Coming
After France decimalised in 1795, the UK considered the option. In 1824 it was proposed to the government. However, the idea was rejected.
In 1841 the Decimal Association started. The Great Exhibition, problems for tourists, and the increase of Britain’s overseas trade all made the idea more appealing.
Several other ideas were put forward, including:
£1 = 1000 mills (proposed in 1824, and still considered in 1920)
£1 = 100 half pennies (and pound renamed ‘The Royal’)
When South Africa moved to the decimal system the UK’s belief that it could work was increased.
In 1963 a new report was issued to the government.
In 1968 a new 5p and 10p coin were introduced alongside the current currency. The ‘new pence’ (p) followed a decimal system.
In 1969 formal plans were made to complete decimalisation. On December 31st that year the 1/2p was withdrawn.
A publicity campaign was run across newspapers, the BBC and ITV.
February was chosen because it was the quiet time for shops, industries and transport systems.
Decimal Day Arrives & The Transition
On February 15th 1971 three new coins were introduced: 1/2p, 1p, and 2p.
2 weeks later the ‘old pennies’ were removed (1d and 3d).
Both old and new currencies were shown on prices. This continued for about 2 years.
Whilst the younger generation moved swiftly to the new money, the older generation took longer. The common phrase ‘how much in old money?’ became part of the English language.
In 1982 the word ‘new’ was removed from the ‘new pence’ (p).
Finally, in 1984, the 1/2p was removed. This left the current set of coins (although a £2 was introduced later).