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You are in: London > Features > My London > Global City > Enfield's cash gift to the world

Reg Varney

Reg Varney

Enfield's cash gift to the world

The cash machine is 40 years old this summer, but where was the birth place of this world-beating invention? New York? Tokyo? Zurich? No, the first ever cash machine was born in Enfield Town.

On June 27 1967, Reg Varney of 'On the Buses' fame became the first person to use a cash machine outside the Barclays Bank on Enfield High Street. Enfield's was the first of six pilot machines trialled by Barclays (the others were in Hove, Ipswich, Luton, Peterborough and Southend) and required the user to have a PIN number and a special paper voucher, which was inserted into the machine in return for a £10 note. Despite initial problems with vandalism, the machines proved popular and became a roaring success.

The Inventor

It was a Scottish inventor, John Shepherd-Barron, who realised the concept of a self-service machine that could be used 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to withdraw cash from one's own bank account. His wife persuaded him to use a four-digit PIN number rather than six because she thought it would be easier to remember. In 2005, Shepherd-Barron was awarded the OBE for his services to banking 'as inventor of the automatic cash dispenser.'

Marking the 40th anniversary, the inventor said, "I am delighted that the cash machine is still going strong. I remember back in 1965 that I would always take money out of my bank on a Saturday morning. However, one Saturday I was one minute late at my bank and it was closed. I had to ask my local garage to cash my cheque."

Reg Varney

Reg Varney using the first cash machine

"That night I started thinking that there must be a better way to get cash when I wanted it. I thought of the chocolate vending machine where money was put in a lot and a bar dispatched – surely money could be dispensed in the same way. Within two years my idea had become reality and we opened the first cash machine at Barclays in Enfield."

Forty years on, there are 60,000 cash machines in the UK dispensing around £300m of cash on a quiet day such as Sunday and up to £700m on a busy day, typically a Friday.

It can even be argued that cash machines play a vital public service role and forms an essential part of the UK infrastructure. And, to think, that it all started in Enfield.

Enfield Town

"I think Enfield was a strange place to have the world's first cash machine. I suppose it is a source of pride."

Jean Freeman

Jean outside Enfield's Barclays

These are the understated words of a life-long Enfield resident, Jean Freeman, who herself celebrates her 80th birthday this summer. Mrs Freeman remembers that her son, Barry, was taken by his school teacher, to look at the cash machine a few days after it was unveiled.

Barry Freeman, who now lives in the Netherlands, was a pupil at Chace Secondary Boys School and recalls, "We were amazed at the time and were very aware of the fact that this was the first of its kind anywhere in the world."

"I was forty back then, and everyone used to look at it," says Mrs Freeman, who then goes on to admit that she was not the quickest convert. "I'm not really one to use cash machines because I'm frightened. I only started to use them three or four years ago. I do use them but only inside the banks."

Rather than using cash machines, Mrs Freeman says that she finds it much safer to use the 'cash-back' facility at the major supermarkets.

"I get told off by my son for not using the Internet. I am interested, but we were in an older era and just never learnt how to use it. I have a mobile phone. When it was first bought for me, I thought I would never use it but now I do it use. I still can't text."

"Enfield has changed so much – it used to be all countryside and a little village." Mrs Freeman tells BBC London wistfully. "It's improved like everything else, but it has got so busy now."

A cashless future?

We are constantly being told that we are moving towards a cashless society, so is the cash machine still a vital feature of every high street? We can now travel around London with our Oyster Cards, pay for the Congestion Charge with our mobile phones and do all our shopping online.

Graham Mott, Head of Planning and Development for LINK, the company that operates the national network of cash machines on behalf of High Street banks, maintains that the future is looking bright.

Mr Mott told BBC London, "People have been talking about the cashless society for some time and the date moves forward five years every time. It is now further away than ever. There is no successful replacement for cash anywhere."

"Customers are reluctant to move away from cash. Usage of cash machines rises consistently between 3%-5% year-on-year."

Max Box

The developers of the Max Box, launching in the UK this summer, hope there is still a future for cash machines, or rather, they believe they are shaping the future. They are launching what they call a 'revolutionary' cash machine that will also allow users to print off photos, order flowers, buy ring-tones, play games – as well as taking out cash.

However, Mr Mott of LINK is sceptical if users will warm to multi-function cash machines.

"In the UK there is a real desire to focus on the cash." He said. "We are more reluctant to do anything to distract from that. It is possible to have machines to sell theatre or cinema tickets. But people would not be particularly keen on the person in front of them doing that. It would just mean more queuing. People want to 'cash and dash' - get through the transaction as quickly as possible."

"I think the machines will become location specific. Some machines will just be 'cash and dash' and other machines, perhaps the ones inside the banks, will offer more services."

What about using our finger prints instead of a card?

"We could have finger print ATMs right now," explains Mr Mott. "The main constraint at the moment is that we are still having too many false-denials – when the machine fails to match a person with their real fingerprint. That would be an unpleasant experience for them."

"The other issue is privacy. People don't like a database of their finger prints or their irises. I think they would only be accepted on the back of a broader ID database scheme."

One potential new development could involve a tie-up with Transport for London's Oyster Card scheme, possibly allowing users to top-up their Oyster Cards at cash machines but Mr Mott warns that there are still considerable technical problems to be resolved.

Taking over the world

All these new developments whether it is finger print or face recognition technology, will happen in good time and mark another chapter in this story. But for now, forty years after Reg Varney used the first cash machine, there are 1.6 million of them worldwide. There is one at the South Pole. There are some in Norway that talk to help blind users. In parts of the United States they have now replaced whole banks. A German monastery is replacing its collection boxes with a device that will accept payments from debit and credit cards. And, yes, it all started in Enfield.

last updated: 27/06/07

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