It is thirty-three years ago today since the £1 note was withdrawn from circulation. The government argued that the £1 coins lasted much longer, but it did reduce £1 to the category of change. It seemed another step in the devaluation of the currency.
I once handled lots and lots of pound notes. In 1977 and 1978, I worked at the weekends as a petrol pump attendant at a country filling station. Petrol was 75p a gallon for four star petrol and 73p a gallon for two star. Diesel was 85p a gallon, (but could be sold to local lorries at 75p a gallon).
People seemed to buy smaller quantities of fuel than they do now. Cars were not economical, twenty to thirty miles per gallon were typical. A car that managed forty miles per gallon was impressive. £5 notes in the till were unusual. Perhaps people drove much shorter distances, perhaps they hadn’t money to spend on tanks of fuel.
It was surprising that there were any pound notes to put into the till. The filling station had no facilities whatsoever. There was just a shack with a counter, a mechanical till, and a chair. A tea and coffee machine had been installed, but it broke down after a few weeks. It had not been a success, no-one wanted to buy the brown liquid that came in the thin plastic cups. An old transistor radio provided diversion during the times when there were no customers.
Outside stood three pumps that had Esso logos, one for two star and one for four star petrol, and one for diesel. A lockable metal stand contained cans of oil, for which customers would occasionally ask. Never being there during the week, I never saw the tanker, but had reason to believe that what was being sold was not Esso. More than once, irate drivers called to complain that there had been water in their petrol.
It was a miserable job! The old metal pumps would sometimes refuse to reset to zero. There was no canopy and, in times when all fuel was pumped by the attendant, every car meant going out to the pumps – in wind and rain, snow and ice, as well as the occasional summer’s day.
The owner would come in from time to time, open the till and take out a handful of pound notes – to go for an outing or to go horse racing.
The business went bankrupt in the summer of 1978. The pound notes had not been sufficiently numerous.