Maths whizz Mary soon to be bang on money

Royal bank of Scotland chief executive Ross McEwan with its new �10 note.
Royal bank of Scotland chief executive Ross McEwan with its new �10 note.
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She was Scotland’s answer to Carol Vorderman back in the day – though cleverer and possibly less likely to generate unseemly friskiness among men of a certain age – and now Mary Somerville is about to become a more familar face than the former Countdown co-host for the first time in decades.

That’s because the Borders-born mathematician, scientist, astronomer and all-round brainbox is pictured on the Royal Bank of Scotland’s new £10 polymer notes.

A portrait of Mary Somerville by Thomas Phillips.

A portrait of Mary Somerville by Thomas Phillips.

The new tenner, the bank’s first for 30 years, will go into circulation on Thursday, October 4, it was announced yesterday.

It will be the bank’s second note to be made from Hampshire-based printer De La Rue’s Safeguard polymer material and will feature numerous security measures intended to make it difficult to counterfeit but easy to authenticate.

It is the first Royal Bank of Scotland note to feature raised braille details to help the visually impaired.

The choice of Jedburgh-born Somerville to adorn it was made following a public vote on social media last year, her rivals being Scottish physicist James Clerk Maxwell and civil engineer Thomas Telford.

Behind a portrait of the mother of six is an illustration of her childhood home-town of Burntisland in Fife, and a moon diagram taken from her 1830 book Mechanism of the Heavens appears when the note is viewed under ultraviolet light.

The reverse of the note features a pair of otters, and it also includes an extract from the poetry of Edinburgh-born Norman MacCaig.

Announcing the release date for the new £10 at the bank’s St Andrew Square branch in Edinburgh, chief executive officer Ross McEwan said: “At the 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.

“It has been 30 years since we produced a new £10 note and, as the Royal Bank of Scotland, we wanted the public to help influence the design.

“They helped influence our theme of fabric of nature and helped us consider the impact Mary Somerville has had on our understanding of the world in which we live.

“It is fitting that our most advanced note yet will carry her portrait.”

The new £10 note will be 15% smaller than its predecessor and the new material is cleaner, more secure and more durable than traditional cotton notes, lasting two and a half times as long on average.

The Royal Bank of Scotland has been issuing banknotes since 1727 and has an average of £1.5bn worth of notes in circulation on any given day.

The current £10 note, first issued in 1987, features a portrait of the first governor of the bank, Archibald Campbell, the third duke of Argyll and first earl of Ilay, on one side and Glamis Castle in Angus on the other.

Twice-married Somerville was born Mary Fairfax in Jedburgh in 1780 and died in Italy in 1872 at the age of 91.

The face of the forthcoming polymer £20 has also been revealed, and it is that of Glaswegian philanthropist and tearoom chain owner Catherine Cranston. It is expected to enter circulation in 2020.

Malcolm Buchanan, chairman of the Scottish board at the Royal Bank of Scotland, said: “As a bank, we celebrate entrepreneurialism and creating opportunity, and Catherine Cranston embodies that spirit.

“Catherine will follow Nan Shepherd and Mary Somerville in gracing notes fit for a modern age and one that will serve customers across Scotland for years to come.”