Paper Money

Royal Bank of Scotland reveals £20 note set for 2020 release

Royal Bank of Scotland, one of the country’s three banks with the authority to issue bank notes, announced a double first on Oct. 23. When its next £20 note enters circulation in 2020, it will be the bank’s first of the denomination made of polymer, and also will be the first £20 to portray a woman other than the queen the face

The new note will have an image of Kate Cranston (1849 to 1934), a legendary Scottish entrepreneur who had a central role in promoting the popularity of tea rooms and was also a major patron of the architect, designer and watercolorist, Charles Rennie Mackintosh. The presentation of the note was at her famous Mackintosh at the Willow tearoom in Glasgow. The room’s original interior was designed by Mackintosh. 

The issue is the third to follow the bank’s “Fabric of Nature” theme and follows the £5 and £10 polymer notes. In addition to Cranston, the note shows red squirrels on a tree and the blaeberry (yes, blaeberry) fruit. It also includes extracts from Cupid and Venus by 16th century poet Mark Alexander Boyd. It will also have the same weave pattern created by textile designers Alistair McDade and Elspeth Anderson for the £5 and £10 notes. 

Click here to see the Royal Bank's newly-desinged £5 notes

The decision for Cranston was made by the Royal Bank of Scotland Scottish Board. It may strike some as odd that the owner of tea rooms would be a subject for a major currency, but Kate Cranston was more than that. Malcolm Buchanan, chair of the Royal Bank of Scotland’s Scottish Board said, “At Royal Bank of Scotland, we feel that a banknote’s value is more than just the figure printed across its front — it is our symbol which lives in people’s pockets and touches everyday lives. Kate Cranston’s legacy touches so many aspects of Scottish life that we, as a nation, are justifiably proud; entrepreneurialism, art, philanthropy and dedication. As such, it is fitting that such a figure as Kate Cranston will be celebrated on the face of our most popular note.” 

A biography of Cranston by Christina O’Neill explains the significance of her tea rooms to Glaswegians, saying that she pioneered social change in the city through the art of tea, giving people a way to socialize outside the confines of a local pub. O’Neill calls her “a businesswoman whose entrepreneurial spirit defied the Victorian belief that women should remain housewives.”

Her brother Stuart pioneered the concept that tea rooms should be affordable and accessible. His sister took it further by giving them a welcoming social atmosphere. When she opened the Crown Luncheon Room in 1878, the emphasis was on “exquisite decor.”

She expanded her approach in later ventures, when she worked with a number of artists in addition to Mackintosh. Her Willow Tearooms that still exist were initially popular because they gave women the possibility to socialize without any men around.

She was called astute as a businesswoman; when she died at 85 on April 18, 1934, she left two-thirds of her estate to the poor of Glasgow. 

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