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UK money before decimalisation


How to pronounce pre-decimal English money

Pounds shillings and pence: the basis of pre-decimal money

As explained more fully in the page on coins, until 1971, British money was divided into pounds, shillings and pence, and pence were subdivided:

One pound, pronounced the same today as in the past, was divided into 20 shillings.
Each shilling was divided into 12 pennies
One penny was divided into two halfpennies, each pronounced "haypenny"

After decimalisation one pound was divided into 100 new pennies making:
1 new penny = 2.4 old pennies. For rough calculations of equivalencies, a new penny was often taken as 2.5 old pennies i.e. 2½ old pennies which was easier to work with. The term 'new penny' soon became just a penny, and more than one 'new penny' became the just the 'pence' that we know today.

Modern mis-pronunciation of pre-decimal money

In various modern period dramas and television programmes on how people used to live, the actors and presenters usually refer to the old pre-decimal money in ways which show that they were too young to have lived with it, i.e. too young to have heard it spoken around them and spoken it themselves in their everyday lives.

One particular example from a popular actress and presenter concerned 5d, ie five old pennies which she pronounced like the post-1971 money, i.e. as the two words "five pence". In practice everyone in the south east of England said it as a single word "fifep'nce" with the "fife ..." rhyming with "life" and th e in pence dropped. This was not a matter of class or education - simply generally accepted custom. There were of course regional variations.

How to pronounce pounds, shillings and pence in South East England - examples

¼d pronounced a farthing
½d pronounced a haypenny or hayp'nce - see below
1½d pronounced three hayp'nce
1¾d pronounced a penny three farthings
1d pronounced a penny
3d pronounced thr'p'nce or a joey
2d pronounced tupp'nce
pronounced tupp'nce haypence or tupp'nce hayp'nny
3d pronounced thr'p'nce or a joey
4d pronounced forp'nce
5d pronounced fifep'nce where 'fife' rhymes with 'life'
6d pronounced sixp'nce or a tanner
7d pronounced sevenp'nce
8d pronounced eightp'nce
9d pronounced ninep'nce
10d pronounced tenp'nce
11d pronounced elevenp'nce
1/- pronounced a shilling or a bob
1/1 pronounced one and a penny
1/2 pronounced one and tuppence .... etc
2/- pronounced two shillings or a florin
2/6 pronounced half a crown or two and six
3/7 pronounced three and seven
£1 pronounced pound, same as after decimalisation
£1/1/- a guinea, pronounced a ginny with a hard g as in give
£1/3/6 for example, pronounced one pound three and six

Pounds, shillings and pence regional pronunciations

Guest contribution

How we used to pronounce the old money in Northern Ireland

We in Northern Ireland pronounced 5d as fippence, the i as in fib.

Paul Mc Cann

There must have been other regional variations.

Pounds, shillings and pence tongue twisters - plays on words

None of what follows would need explanation to anyone who lived with pre-decimal currency, but for a modern reader explanation is necessary:

To appreciate the following tongue-twister you need to understand three meanings of the word 'Bob'.

Bob = an informal but widely used term for a shilling
Bob = a common nickname for the name Robert
Bob = to hit with a quick light blow

Guest contribution

Tongue twister

Your Bob owes our Bob a bob. And if your Bob doesn't give our Bob that bob that your Bob owes our Bob, our Bob'll give your Bob a bob o'er t'nose.

I learned to say it very quickly and still baffle my grandkids with it.

Geoff Partridge

This contribution reminded me that my father often came out with the slightly different following version.

Can you say this quickly?

A regional variation?

Your brother Bob owes my brother Bob a bob. And if your brother Bob doesn't give give my brother Bob that bob that your brother Bob owes my brother Bob, my brother Bob'll give your brother Bob a bob in the eye.

The webmaster's father

There were probably other variations which show how common the informal slang for a shilling was.

A rhyming slogan for offering occasional work in pre-decimal currency

Once again, this example relies on the informal slang 'bob'.

Scouts and maybe other teenagers would canvass for work like washing cars and mowing lawns quoting the rhyming slogan: Bob a Job

There was, I remember, a 'Bob a Job Week'. The more formal 'A Shilling a Job' or ' Shilling a Job Week' would hardly have caught on as readily.

What a measure of inflation '5p a Job' would be now!

Another play on words in pre-decimal money

This play on words relies on the mix of how the old pre-decimal money was spoken and how it was written. It is about a meal costing 10/6. As the first of the above boxes shows, 10/6 meant 'ten shillings and sixpence' and was pronounced 'ten and six'. Also 1/4 meant 'a shilling and fourpence' and was pronounced 'one and four'. Sixpence was called 'a tanner'. The meal in the following play on words has to be described as 'expensive' because 10/6 was a lot of money at the time.

Guest contribution

A mix of spoken and written pre-decimal money

A man went to a restaurant and had an expensive meal. When he asked the waiter how much he owed, the reply was, "ten and six" ["10/6"].

The man replied "10 and 6 - well, 10 and 6 is 16. And 16 pence is 1/4 [1 and 4]. And 1 and 4 is 5. So it's fifepence (5 pence)."

"Here's a tanner - keep the change."!

Geoff Partridge

An amusing true story about the new decimal currency

This story is not about pronouncing old money, but since it is amusing with the hindsight of today and also comes from Geoff Partridge, it fits well here. You need to know that D Day was not only the term for the Normandy Landings in 1944. Much later it also stood for Decimal Day, 15th Feb 1971, the day when decimal currency became legal in the UK.

Guest contribution which is TRUE

People's opinions of decimal money

On D Day, the day that UK currency went Decimal - not the D Day of the World War 2 invasion of Normandy - I went to buy a paper in our local newsagents in Ravensthorpe, Dewsbury. I believe the cost was 'eightpence ha'penny' in the old money.

Realising it was 'D Day', I said "Oh, I suppose it's 3 and a half new pence now?"

"No" the newsagent replied, "We're not bothering with this new money. Nobody in Ravensthorpe's bothering."

Fortunately there was a transition period before pounds shillings and pence were phased out completely.

Geoff Partridge

Comment: Was the newsagent just being canny?

The newsagent could have had good reason for refusing the decimal equivalent. Do the maths:

3.5p = 8.4d is slightly LESS than the original 8.5d

So the newsagent would have been slightly out of pocket accepting the new decimal money.

After all, Dewsbury is in Yorkshire - and Yorkshire people, like the Welsh (such as me) and Scots, are what the Scots call 'canny' (careful, especially with money).

Ron Haller-Williams

If you can add anything to this page or provide a photo, I would be pleased if you would contact me.

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