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Bank of England to launch new £50 - Guardian

By Heather Stewart

Inventor James Watt and his financial backer Matthew Boulton to feature on new £50 note, to be issued on 2 November

The Bank of England will seek to lift the spirits of downtrodden businesses next month by evoking the memory of their glorious predecessors when it launches a new £50 note, featuring the inventor James Watt and entrepreneur Matthew Boulton.

The Bank announced on Friday that the new note, replacing one featuring the first governor of the Bank of England, Sir John Houblon, will go into circulation on 2 November. It also pointed out that it will be the first note to feature two men, and the first to be signed by Chris Salmon, the Bank's new chief cashier.

Boulton and Watt were pioneers of the industrial revolution, whom Labour leader Ed Miliband would presumably designate "producers," not "predators".

Boulton was an entrepreneur, who started work in his father's Birmingham factory making buckles for shoes and knee-breeches, but later went into partnership with Watt, backing his crucial improvements to the design of the steam engine.

The two worked together to pioneer the use of the steam engine in the cotton spinning industry, helping to cement Britain's position as the "workshop of the world," at the cutting edge of new technology.

Commercialising inventions has long been seen as an Achilles heel of the modern British economy, with few boffins possessing the financial nous to build up a successful firm. Successive governments have tried to tilt the playing field to encourage spin-out firms from universities, and boost in-house research by corporations.

But in today's economic climate, where finding sympathetic financial backers for even the most brilliant ideas can be a challenge, a partnership like Boulton and Watt's must look appealing to many a hard-pressed British entrepreneur.

And with Boulton at his side, Watt never had to endure the embarrassment of Autonomy's Mike Lynch, who at least according to Larry Ellison at Oracle, was punting his hi-tech firm, Autonomy, around Silicon Valley in search of the highest bidder – though if the £7bn deal with Hewlett-Packard goes through it will presumably go a long way to salving Lynch's hurt feelings.

For many cash-strapped families, though, the worthy example of these founding fathers of the industrial revolution will be out of reach – because many people rarely get to see a £50 note, let alone hold onto it for long enough to examine the picture on the back.

Monday, 3rd October 2011

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