Women making banknotes

Women have been involved in making banknotes since at least 1764.

Women have been involved in all stages of banknote production. They have made banknote paper, operated banknote printing machines and drawn banknote designs.

There have been three female Chief Cashiers at the Bank of England since 1999. The Chief Cashier is responsible for issuing banknotes and their signature appears on every note.


Making watermarked paper

One of the first women to be involved in the production of banknotes was Mrs Mary Smith, who worked for the Bank of England from 1764 to 1805. She probably made this mould which was used to make watermarked paper for banknotes.


Working in banknote paper mills

In the 1800s, women were employed in banknote paper mills.

As this picture shows, they operated the machinery used to make banknote paper at the Bank of England’s paper mill in Hampshire.


Women and counterfeiting

Women have also been involved in making counterfeit banknotes.

Artist George Cruikshank (1792–1878) designed this imitation banknote protesting against the severe anti-forgery laws. It shows a row of male and female forgers hanging from a gibbet.


Working during wartime

During the First World War, there was an increased demand for banknotes and other official printed products.

At the same time, male employees were leaving to fight in the war. The Bank of England employed women to fill their places and meet the demand.


Moving to St Luke’s Printing Works

Women continued to be employed in the Bank of England’s printing department after the war.

In the 1930s, eight 'neat-fingered girls' were responsible for feeding paper into each banknote printing machine at the St. Luke’s Printing Works in Old Street, London.


Wartime evacuees in Hampshire

During the Second World War the Bank of England faced more staff shortages.

Women were employed at the temporary banknote printing department in Overton. It had moved production to the countryside to protect it from the threat of German bombs.


Printing banknotes

In 1957, artist Feliks Topolski (1907–1989) was commissioned by the Bank of England to sketch everyday life at its newly opened printing works in Debden, Essex.

As his drawings show, lots of women worked in the new printing factory.


The first female banknote designer

In 1990 the Bank of England employed its first female banknote designer, Debbie Marriott, who still works here today.

She lead the team that designed the £20 and £50 polymer note, issued in 2020 and 2021. It will feature artist J. M. W. Turner (1775–1851).


The first female Chief Cashier

Merlyn Lowther was the first woman to hold the post of Chief Cashier at the Bank of England. She held the post from 1999 to 2003.

The Chief Cashier’s signature appears on all Bank of England banknotes. The Series E £5 note was the first one Lowther signed.


Women in banknote design

Emma Cook also worked in banknote design.

This design is of the social reformer Elizabeth Fry (1780–1845). The portrait appeared on the Series E £5 banknote, issued between 2002 and 2017.

2014 and 2018

The second and third female Chief Cashiers, Victoria Cleland and Sarah John

Victoria Cleland was the second woman to hold the post of Chief Cashier, between 2014 and 2018. She was succeeded by Sarah John in 2018.

This page was last updated 17 February 2023