The Works of Sydney Fowler Wright 1874 - 1965

The £5 Note

by S. Fowler Wright

The Star'

The £5 Note.

        What is wrong with the five pound note? The question is not mine, nor has it anything to do with the gold standard, or the rate of exchange.

        It is a question which I have been asked at various times by American visitors in England. I have been asked it in New York. I have now had occasion to ask it myself.

        It was in a tea-shop not far from Oxford Street. When I came to settle the bill I found I was short of silver. Neither had I a pound note. I looked down on two neat piles of twenty and ten shilling notes on the cashier's desk, and a well of silver before her, and I tendered the fiver with the perfunctory apology for having no smaller change which was the most that the situation appeared to require.

        "Sorry," she said. "I can't change that."

        I asked why, but she looked blank, and when I said that I had nothing less, she called the manageress.

        That lady was polite, but firm. She was illogically willing to oblige me by sending over to the bank to get it changed, but it could have no place in her till.

        As I regretted that I could not wait, she said she would hold over my check till I called in again. She seemed pleased to be able to show in that way that she had confidence in myself. It was the document issued by the Bank of England on which suspicion was concentrated.

        Banknotes are readily taken at hotels, and in the more expensive restaurants. But to attempt to purchase a hat or a pair of shoes with a five pound note is to encounter an attitude which suggests that you are doing something vaguely improper, if not actually fraudulent. At the best, you will be asked to put your name and address on the back! Are you supposed to be capable of stealing or forging a note, but incapable of writing a false name?

The End