That’ll cost you a tanner…

lsdLSD nowadays means a drug that does funny things with your mind – though I have never tried it. I heard that there was a man on the stuff who thought he could fly and jumped off a roof. He never returned from his trip, at least not in this life.

At one time, £sd meant something else, our old British currency of before decimalisation, in 1971. I remember it well: 12 pence in a shilling, twenty shillings in a pound, 240 pence in the pound. The coins I knew were a ha’penny, one penny, 3d (known as a Joey in the south of England), 6d (a tanner in most parts of England), one shilling (or a bob), two shillings (a florin or two bob), two shillings and sixpence (half a crown or a half crown). We then had the ten bob note which was quite a lot of money. I considered myself very lucky if my birthday or Christmas money from aunts and uncles would add up to one pound. Then we had the fiver, tenner and higher value notes. Between the wars, before my time, there were two other coins, the crown (5 shillings) and the farthing (a quarter of a penny).

See A pence for your thoughts – decimalisation, history, monarchy and a rare BBC correction by Peter Hitchens.

I was in the last generation of boys to be taught “money sums” and not to carry over tens but twelves and twenties – and to get whacked for getting too many wrong each day. When I was very little, we had a tanner (6d) per week, which rapidly rose to a shilling and then half a crown (2/6). I was 12 in 1971 when it all went over to decimal, just when I was starting to get my money sums right. My reaction was therefore one of intense annoyance after all those whackings from Mr Hales (my prep school master), and he lowered his arms and told us that money sums would be like all other (decimal base) sums!

That being said, the old English money system was becoming increasingly a nightmare for international exchange and markets, and the Common Market had been on the agenda for a while. I understand just about zilch about economics, but can appreciate the problem when all other currencies are decimal. In those days we were beginning to exchange our slide rules for electronic calculators (but we weren’t allowed to use them for maths exams at school). Converting one decimal system to another simply needs a multiplication or division factor. <Face palm> – My head hurts! It is strange to think that I lived in a world of transition from everything being English to seeing more and more imported goods, household appliances, toys, games and all sorts of things.

I have to agree with the article mentioned above. A penny is a penny in the singular, not one pence. We lost the habit of tuppence, thruppence and sixpence, but I at least kept the distinction between the singular and the plural. The denarius, going back to Roman times was soon forgotten. We English were, and still are for many things, very insular (apart from the literal fact of living on an island). Our legal system is still incredibly archaic, based as it is on custom and jurisprudence. Is it fairer than the ultra-rational Napoleonic Code? In the Church, we like to appeal to custom and tradition against the will of the legislator and positive law. The old things can still be found in dusty places in the City of London, in the most surprising places, in the livery companies and guilds. In London clubs, the old joke goes that you can tell that a member has died because of the god-awful stench coming from behind the newspaper! We are a strange country, even stranger when one has years of experience of living in another country.

Sometimes, the appearances remain but the meaning has gone. I have thought of this a lot today as we celebrate the Queen’s birthday. It is easy to take something for granted until it is gone. I am very fond of our Queen as most of my compatriots are. Many French people look to our Monarchy and regret that they chopped off the head of theirs! We had our Restoration after our countrymen did the same thing to Charles I. In our own time, I have known only Elizabeth II, who was still a beautiful young woman when I was a baby. The incredible thing is that she grew up in harder times, and she lived through the war, learning the stiff upper lip the hard way. I am old enough to have been taught the virtues of dignity, stoicism and devotion to duty. At the same time, the old stuffiness could easily become a place of hypocrisy and coldness towards others.

This is probably something we once had in common with the Germans. My own grandfather and great grandfather were named Frederick William after Kaiser Friedrich Wilhelm. Why did we have to go to war against the country of Göthe, Bach and Beethoven in 1914? It was the greatest tragedy, and one of the bitterest trials our Royal Family had to live through.

I hope and pray that at least some of these Christian qualities and virtues will survive in our Queen’s succession, in Charles, William and George, to be passed on to future generations of British people.

God save the Queen! May God help our nation and forgive us our sins!

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10 Responses to That’ll cost you a tanner…

  1. Michael Frost says:

    Reminds me of the need for the “cheat sheet” I put together on the old British currency when I was reading a lot of 20th century English fiction, esp. Amis, Burgess, Greene & Orwell. Was so confusing for us Americans. Thinking there was even some weird one that was one pound and one shilling, though that made no monetary sense to me.

    • Oh yes, the Guinea. My father often talked of guineas when I was small, but the gold coin had gone a long time ago. We also have the name “quid” meaning a pound. “That’ll cost yer fifty quid, gov” we can still hear in London. The continued use of the Guinea as a word meaning a pound and a shilling was really more a question of social status and snobbery.

      An unrelated matter, we had many quirks in England, the Baker’s Dozen meaning 13. If a baker sold an underweight loaf of bread, he risked fines or being put in the stocks and / or whipped. It was safer to produce something over the prescribed weight to compensate for loss of weight during the baking. Therefore the baker put in an extra measure of flour.

      We have some strange laws in England, never repealed like our not being allowed to wear a suit of armour in Parliament or drive a London taxi without a truss of hay in the boot for the non-existent horse. Until the 1960’s, suicide was a capital crime, not merely the attempting thereof.

  2. Scott Knitter says:

    So the pound remained the same but pence got bigger; hence the coins that said “Ten New Pence” and the like. Anyway, I remember hearing about the change (from over here in the USA) and thinking it must all be very confusing.

    • Over the years since 1971, new coins have been introduced: 20p, a £1 coin in fake gold, a £2 coin a little bit like the 2 Euro coin but more ornate. What is amazing is that we didn’t go over to the Euro. There we begin to wander into the world of economics and market analysis – not my domain!

  3. Don’t let’s forget my father’s old saying: “he’s as bent as a nine bob note!”

  4. Fr. David Marriott SSC says:

    But the ‘silent’ change that decimalization bought was the condemnation to the garbage can of history of such things as rod, perch and pole: with the acre measured in square yards etc.!

    • We still use miles and yards for road distances in England, and most of us still think in feet and inches for everyday things. The rod, pole and perch remained theoretical and a source of amusement for schoolboys! We still have acres of farmland and not hectares like on the Continent. However, we started using metric in England for things like precision engineering and thicknesses and lengths of wood and metal way back in the 1970’s. I had no problem when I came to France where everything is metric.

      • Scott Knitter says:

        In 1970s America, we were amply educated in metric, and the country was supposed to change over very soon and we’d all go forward into a global metric future. Then it just didn’t happen. So we’re the quaint ones now with our pints, ounces, and Fahrenheit.

  5. I think “joey” was mainly used of the silver 3d. I never heard the newer thick yellow version called anything but the threepenny bit.

    How common is the guinea now (as an amount of money, not a coin)? Is it still heard in auctions? Some people still charge fees in guineas, there are prizes in racing.

    • I agree with you. When I was a small boy, we called it the “thupenny (threepenny) bit”.

      I haven’t heard anyone quote a price in guineas since about the time the money changed, but as I mentioned, there is something of the status symbol in it. The present equivalent would be £1.05. Inflation adjusted from 1971, the factor would be 14, therefore £14.70 in today’s values.

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