The seventies was the decade of street parties as we celebrated the Queen’s Silver Jubilee. It was the time of the 3 day week and when postal workers, miners and dustmen went on strike, all culminating in the ‘winter of discontent.
As the decade began, something almost as bad as the strikes, was being discussed behind closed doors. How could it be that a large 1d copper coin had now became almost as small as a sixpence and was called 1p?
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This was the beginning of the end for the faithful tanners, bobs and half-crowns of the old system. Even now 10 bob seems much more than 50p.
For those at school who’d been taught about decimalisation, long before it became the UK currency, it was so much easier than the old £.s.d but for others it proved to be quite a problem.
Britain had used the ‘old’ system since 1066 when £1 was divided into 20/-(shillings) or 240 d (pennies) now, on 15 February 1971, we were being told that £1 was 100p – no wonder they were confused and thought they were being ‘done out’ of their money.
A shilling (1/-) also called a ‘bob’ was worth 12 pennies (d) now it was 5p. Shopping took on a whole new outlook and with 4d & 5d both being worth 2p it’s no wonder they were confused.
With no internet shopping or shop ‘n’drop available, shoppers (usually women), had to grab their courage in both hands and with ‘the new money’ in their purses headed off to do the family shopping, often finding that the shop keepers were almost as knowledgeable about these new fangled coins as they were themselves.
Many stores tried to help their shoppers by showing both the £.s.d and £-p prices for each item until they all got more used to the change.
As the year drew on most people got used to dealing with decimal currency but as Christmas shopping approached many went back to converting back to the old currency to check that prices hadn’t changed.
1970’s top Christmas gift was the ‘Stylophone‘ and this musical(?) instrument would be one of the last gifts sold pre decimal currency. By the time the ‘Spacehopper‘ became the ‘in thing’ parent would be using the ‘new money’.
If you’d reached the age where you were ‘into music’ then the latest singles may well have been top of your Christmas wishlist, pre decimalisation you could expect to pay 7/6d, after decimalisation this would be the same at 37.5p, however very few thought this was the case.
Most children received sweets in their Christmas stocking and if they were lucky they might find a Kit-Kat which used to cost 4d and a Mars Bar 5d both of these chocolate bars now retailed at 2p.
If you were lucky (or unlucky depending on your tastebuds) to have some delicious brussel sprouts as part of your Christmas Day dinner you’d be surprised to find that they cost just 6p a pound not the 6d pound as one elderly lady thought.
Britain’s first ever Christmas decimal stamps appeared on 13th October, 1971, the designs of the Christmas stamps were derived from the stained glass windows of Canterbury Cathedral, using the three Nativity scenes from the window of the North Choir Aisle.
These stamps were much larger than previous stamps and thousands of cards bearing the new stamps dropped through letterboxes around the length and breadth of the UK.
Everyone complained that they were being ripped off, and when penny lollies became 1p lollies and a packet of crisps rose from 5d to 3p overnight, it’s easy to see where it came from.
As the decade continued decimal currency was embraced by everyone around the UK who, once they had accepted that it was here to stay actually found it much easier to calculate than the old £.s.d.
What memories do you have of the change to decimal currency? Get in touch below, we’d love to hear your stories.