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Winston Churchill plastic £5 note ends trail of paper money

The Bank of England’s first plastic banknote, the new Winston Churchill fiver, will be unveiled at Blenheim Palace, the wartime leader’s ancestral home, on Thursday.

It forms part of the Bank’s switch to polymer banknotes, which will end 320 years of paper money. The Churchill fiver, which goes into circulation in September, will be the first of a series of new plastic notes, followed by the Jane Austen £10 next year and the JMW Turner £20 by 2020.

Manufactured from a transparent plastic film and coated with an ink layer,polymer banknotes are seen as cleaner, more durable and more secure than paper. The material allows the inclusion of clear “windows” to protect against counterfeits.

They are also more environmentally friendly than paper because they can last up to two-and-a-half times longer, according to the Bank of England. It claims that the durability will offset the higher production costs and save an estimated £100m.

The Bank’s laboratory tests showed polymer banknotes only begin to shrink and melt at 120C, so they are expected to survive a washing machine spin cycle – although they could be damaged by a hot iron.

The move to polymer notes will land shops and banks with a bill of up to £236m, it has been estimated, because ATMs, vending machines and self-service machines will need to be recalibrated to take the new plastic notes, which are 15% smaller than the current notes. Some older ATMs will need to be replaced.

More than 30 countries already use polymer notes, including New Zealand, Canada, Fiji, Mauritius and Mexico. They were first introduced by Australia, in 1988.

The Churchill fiver will replace the current £5 note featuring prison reformer Elizabeth Fry. News in 2013 that she would be replaced with the former prime minister sparked an outcry as it meant that, apart from the Queen, there would be no female figures on British banknotes. A few months later the Bank announced that writer Jane Austen would be the next face of the £10 note.

Churchill will be pictured alongside a view of Westminster with Big Ben showing 3 o’clock – the approximate time on 13 May 1940 when Churchill declared in a speech: “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat.”

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