Why can't the Bank of England think of a single female to put on its notes?

We asked the country’s brightest minds to do a little better...

Lena Corner
Sunday 02 June 2013 00:00 BST

When the Bank of England recently announced that the face of the Quaker philanthropist and social reformer Elizabeth Fry is to be removed from our £5 bank note in favour of Winston Churchill, it was met with an outcry. This meant that, other than the Queen, there wouldn't be a single female face on any English bank note. (Scotland manages a more enlightened attitude with a £10 note featuring missionary Mary Slessor.) The message, we presume, from governor Sir Mervyn King, is that there simply aren't any women in the annals of history who are worthy enough.

Campaigner Caroline Criado-Perez duly started an online petition entitled Keep a Woman on English Banknotes which, at time of writing, has gathered more than 25,000 signatures.

"An all-male line-up on our bank notes sends out the damaging message that no woman has done anything important enough to appear," she says. "It is not acceptable for an influential institution to overlook women in this way." Criado-Perez duly instructed her solicitors to fire off a letter to Sir Mervyn saying that he had failed in his duties under the Equality Act. He is due to respond any time now.

We thought we would go some way towards redressing this glaring imbalance by asking some of the UK's best creative minds to come up with notes featuring women worthy of gracing our humble fiver. We used a bit of artistic license and decided to expand on the Bank's brief and permit the inclusion of women who are still alive. We plundered the worlds of science, art and pop culture and as the nominations poured in, it became evident that there are actually quite a number of women deserving of acknowledgement.

So, Sir Mervyn and all the other head honchos at the Bank of England – take note.

Morag Myerscough, designer

Bridget Riley (1931-present)

"Riley is a greater influence on contemporary art than we give her credit for. She has that quiet, unegotistical Britishness about her. Her work has stood the test of time and been relevant to many generations. I've always loved her work – the geometry, the colours, the abstractness. I never get bored of looking at it; it always makes me feel optimistic. The art world is now so much more celebrity-led than it used to be, it's refreshing to see a woman who is judged almost entirely on her work."

Vicky Reeves, managing director at digital marketing agency Chameleon

Emmeline Pankhurst (1858-1928)

"Pankhurst is known for campaigning for women's rights, but ultimately she was campaigning for equality for all. That idea is still relevant today, from the number of people living in poverty in this country to the wildly varying standards of education dependent on wealth and location. We have used her phrase 'Deeds not words' along with the colours of the Women's Social and Political Union on our note."

Nick Cooper and Tristan Cavanagh at integrated marketing agency 23red

Agatha Christie (1890-1976)

"Roughly four billion Agatha Christie novels have been sold worldwide, and it would be a crime not to have this phenomenally inspiring British woman on a £5 note. We've included elements of some of her best-known works, from Poirot's moustache to a pocket watch stuck at 1.15 (Murder on the Orient Express) and a fishbone (which Miss Marple pretended to choke on in 4.50 from Paddington)."

Chris Baylis, executive creative director at digital marketing agency Tribal DDB

Octavia Hill (1838-1912)

"A great Victorian philanthropist, Hill was the original Big Society person. She was very much about helping the poor to help themselves through social housing, the arts and more. She was also one of the founders of the National Trust. She used to march armies of schoolchildren who had never been outside of their tenements across the countryside. It wasn't just platitudes. She was about action. She was transformative."

Suzie Winsor, freelance illustrator and designer

Mary Seacole (1805-1881)

"I was disgusted to read of Michael Gove's plan to remove Mary Seacole from the National Curriculum and replace her with people he considers 'more traditional figures', such as Lord Nelson . She was a pioneer of modern nursing and an unsung hero of the Victorian age. Her humanity and determination to fight for what she believed in the face of discrimination is truly inspirational. As a role model she is still absolutely relevant."

Jenna Collins, artist and illustrator

Viv Nicholson (1936-present)

"People don't always experience money as neutral and dependable; it can be precarious, stressful – and, every so often, a cause for celebration. Viv Nicholson became famous overnight for a huge win on the Pools in 1961. On winning, she quipped that she was going to, 'Spend, spend, spend' – a phrase that's followed her to this day. She got criticism from all sides and the tabloids really went for her. To survive all she did is an achievement in itself."

Hattie Stewart, illustrator

Jane Goodall (1934-present)

"Goodall is a strong representation of not only a woman but of someone who cares about the future of our planet. She spent more than 40 years studying the social life of chimpanzees in Tanzania and her work was revolutionary. She now travels the world with her charity Roots and Shoots to teach communities how to be sustainable. Everything she does is about planting one small seed that will grow into something everlasting. She is all about giving back and stands for the things we take for granted."

Nicky Bullard, executive creative director at Lida, part of M&C Saatchi

Vivienne Westwood (1941-present)

"If you are going to celebrate women, you might as well choose a woman who celebrates other women. I love the idea of having the Queen of England on one side and the Queen of Punk on the other. Both are brilliant ambassadors for these isles. We've used a Westwood quote on our note: 'I didn't know how a working-class girl like me could possibly make a living in the art world.' Well, look where she is now. She is an inspiration."

Geoff Wilson, associate strategy director at FITCH design agency

Caroline Herschel (1750–1848)

"I chose Caroline Herschel for three reasons. Firstly the fact that she was an immigrant - she was from Germany originally but became British. Given the nature of the current debate on immigration putting someone on our note who came from overseas and made a great contribution sends out the right signals. My second reason was because she was first prominent female scientist. She was a big hitter. She discovered several comets and became one of astronomy’s great pioneers. The third reason is it would be a great way of helping to get young female school children interested in science. Putting a female astronomer from 200 years ago on a bank note sends out the best message."

Sonya Dyakova, graphic designer and art director, Atelier Dyakova

Julia Margaret Cameron (1815-1879)

"I chose photographer Julia Margaret Cameron because of the simplicity and beauty of her images and the powerful influence she still holds on photography today. She didn’t start her career until she was a 48-year-old mother of 11 (five of whom were adopted). The fact that she had the energy to do this shows just how driven she was. She was very social and had a house full of beautiful people who came and went and had their pictures taken. Her portraits were very pure – she had a way of making the sitter look almost quite ethereal - which was a complete contrast to all the visual extravaganza of the Victorian age in which she lived."

Faye West, illustrator

Marie Stopes (1880-1958)

"You only have to watch Vera Drake or Call The Midwife to see how important family planning and contraception is to the world. It is incredible to think that any sort of equal rights for women, giving them a choice about their lives and bodies, have only been achieved in the last few decades. And for this we have Marie Stopes, a fearless birth control campaigner and pioneer, to thank. Any woman lucky enough to have grown up in the post-Marie Stopes era has a degree of freedom which women before that simply never had. For this she deserves to be recognised and remembered."

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