British pre-decimal currency

A guide for those not old enough to remember "proper" money

 

If you're younger than about 50 and you've been looking at our faretables, you may not understand the currency.  Until 15th February 1971, the British currency was not decimalised.  The basic units were the pound, the shilling, and the penny.  These were represented by the letters L, S and D respectively, from the Latin libra, solidus and denarius (the pound sign that we still use today is simply an elaborate 'L').

 

There were 12 pennies in a shilling, and 20 shillings in the pound, hence 240 pence in a pound.  Where you see amounts written like 1/6 in the faretables, this represents one shilling and sixpence.  2/9 represents two shillings and ninepence, and so on.  2/- means two shillings exactly.

 

Today, people will say the cost of something is "55 pee", for example, but in the pre-decimal era they did not say "7 dee".  Amounts were always expressed as, for example, "sevenpence", "three and fourpence" (for three shillings and four pence), or "one pound seven and six."   So if you wanted to travel from Bristol to Stroud on route 400 in 1959, the conductor would have asked you for "three and six, please," meaning thee shillings and sixpence (17.5p in today's money, but worth about 2.70 at today's prices).

 

The coins themselves tended to be far larger than the modern ones: a penny was one and three-sixteenths of an inch across, bigger than any current coin including the 2 coin.  The sixpence coin was slightly larger than the current 5p and the shilling slightly larger than a modern 10p coin.  Part of the reason for their larger size was that they were worth a lot more.  For example, in 1960 a Penguin paperback book would probably have cost you 2/6, and today a similar book would probably cost 7 or 8.  In 1959 a single bus ticket from Bristol to Chipping Sodbury on route 131 would have cost you 1/5, and today would cost somewhere around 4.  This suggests that both books and bus ticket prices have risen faster than inflation, since 1/5 would be worth 1.08 today according to the National Archives' currency converter (this is a great site allowing price comparisons from the year 1270 onward).

 

The other thing about the coins is that because they had remained unchanged for many years, you would find them with a variety of sovereign's heads on them, not just the Queen.  Below are some examples, showing the Queen herself (looking rather younger), and Kings George V and George VI.

 

For more information on the old currency, have a look at this link.

 

Coin front Coin back Amount Called Nickname Today's equivalent

Half penny Hayp'ny    

Penny Penny    

Three pence Threp'ny bit or Thrup'ny bit    

Six pence Sixpence Tanner 2.5p
Shilling Shilling Bob 5p
Two shillings Florin Two bob 10p
Two shillings and six pence Half-crown   12.5p

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Copyright 2010 Bristol Vintage Bus Group. All rights reserved.
Revised: 13/03/2010