5 things to know about Mary Seacole

Call for black person to feature for first time on new plastic £50 note

Labour MP says 'overlooked' nurse Mary Seacole should feature on currency

Josh Gabbatiss
Science Correspondent
Sunday 14 October 2018 14:07

An MP has called for Mary Seacole to become the first ever black person to feature on British currency after the Bank of England confirmed plans for a new £50 note.

The Bank of England has announced that the “more secure” polymer notes will be printed when the new £20 note featuring artist JMW Turner is rolled out in 2020.

As speculation begins to mount about whose face will adorn the new note, Labour MP Wes Streeting has suggested the pioneering British-Jamaican nurse.

“Mary Seacole’s achievements are too often overlooked in history and yet what she did for soldiers in the Crimean War was an act of great heroism which led to her being voted the greatest black Briton,” he told The Telegraph.

After moving to the UK from Kingston, Seacole volunteered to help British soldiers in the Crimean War, but her application was turned down.

Despite this setback, the mixed-race nurse made her own way to the battlefield and tended to wounded soldiers.

After fading into obscurity for many years, Seacole has since come to be highly regarded for what she achieved in the face of racial prejudice.

In 2013 a successful petition fought to keep her on the school curriculum after the then education secretary Michael Gove indicated she would be removed.

In a tweet on Saturday, Mr Streeting also put forward former South African president and anti-apartheid revolutionary Nelson Mandela.

The decision as to who fronts the £50 note will emerge in the coming months following public suggestions, and will ultimately be made by Bank of England governor Mark Carney.

The last crop of fifties was introduced in 2011, and its future looked uncertain after concerns were raised about it being used for money laundering and tax evasion.

However, the Treasury insisted the new batch will scupper criminals by being much harder to forge.

First introduced in 1981, there are currently 330 million £50 notes in circulation, with a combined value of £16.5bn, the Treasury said.

The exchequer secretary to the Treasury, Robert Jenrick, said: “Our coins and notes are respected and recognised the world over and are a key part of the UK’s heritage and identity.

“People should have as much choice as possible when it comes to their money, and we’re making sure that cash is here to stay.

“Our money needs to be secure and this new note will help prevent crime.”

The Bank of England has been forced to defend its new polymer notes after animal rights activists noted they contain traces of animal fat.

Campaigners argued that the use of tallow, a substance derived from fat and used to make candles and soaps, placed vegetarians and people from certain religious backgrounds in a difficult position.

However, the Bank said that not only is polymer cleaner and allows for extra security features to be added, it is better for the environment as it lasts longer than regular paper notes.

Additional reporting by PA

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