15 February 1971

The decimalisation of British coinage is completed on Decimal Day.

February 15, 1971 All change as Britain switches to decimal currency
Britain said farewell to pounds, shillings and pence and hello to the new penny, the seven-sided 50p piece and the ‘tiddler’ as Decimal Day finally arrived.

The biggest change to Britain’s currency for more than a thousand years took place on this day in 1971 when the system of pounds, shillings and pence made way for a decimal system that divided the pound into 100 new pence.

Although the decimal debate dated back as far as the 17th century, Britain had resisted change from the old system of 240 pennies to the pound even though most of the world had adopted currency systems based around units of 10, 100 or 1,000.

A 1963 report by the Halsbury Committee recommended a switch to a decimal currency, and in March 1966 Chancellor of the Exchequer James Callaghan told the House of Commons that Britain would go decimal in 1971. The Decimal Currency Act wouldn’t be passed until May 1969, but by then the Decimal Currency Board, under Lord Fiske, was well established and the first decimal coins – versions of the shilling and two-shilling, or florin, bearing the 5p and 10p legends – had already reached the high street.

Decimal Currency Board chairman Lord Fiske on Decimal Day

The new 50p coin followed in October 1969, so that by Decimal Day itself, the population was already familiar with three of the six new coins – the ½p, 1p and 2p coins were introduced on ‘D Day’ itself.

Banks were closed from Thursday February 11 to give them time to clear cheques written in ‘old money’ and convert balances to decimal, while railway companies began accepting the new coins a day early to ease the process. Large stores opened special counters where shoppers could exchange their £sd for a handful of the 4,140 million new coins in circulation.

Thanks to a three-year education campaign which included a TV drama called Granny Gets the Point, free ready-reckoners and rudimentary conversion calculators and even a song by Max Bygraves extolling the virtues of the new coinage, fears of galloping inflation, crafty retailers rounding up prices or public rejection never came to pass, and the transition to the new decimal currency was hailed a success.

15 February 1804

The Serbian Revolution starts.

The First Serbian Uprising was an uprising of Serbs in the Sanjak of Smederevo against the Ottoman Empire from 14 February 1804 to 7 October 1813. Initially a local revolt against renegade janissaries who had seized power through a coup, it evolved into a war for independence (the Serbian Revolution) after more than three centuries of Ottoman rule and short-lasting Austrian occupations.

The janissary commanders murdered the Ottoman Vizier in 1801 and occupied the sanjak, ruling it independently from the Sultan. Tyranny ensued; the janissaries suspended the rights granted to Serbs by the Sultan earlier, and increased taxes, and imposed forced labor, among other things. In 1804 the janissaries feared that the Sultan would use the Serbs against them, so they murdered many Serbian chiefs. Enraged, an assembly chose Kara?or?e as leader of the uprising, and the rebel army quickly defeated and took over towns throughout the sanjak, technically fighting for the Sultan. The Sultan, fearing their power, ordered all pashaliks in the region to crush them. The Serbs marched against the Ottomans and, after major victories in 1805–06, established a government and parliament that returned the land to the people, abolished forced labor and reduced taxes.

Military success continued over the years; however, there was dissent between Kara?or?e and other leaders—Kara?or?e wanted absolute power while his dukes, some of whom abused their privileges for personal gain, wanted to limit it. After the Russo-Turkish War ended and Russian support ceased, the Ottoman Empire exploited these circumstances and reconquered Serbia in 1813.Although the uprising was crushed, it was continued by the Second Serbian Uprising in 1815, which resulted in the creation of the Principality of Serbia, as it gained semi-independence from the Ottoman Empire in 1817.

Background