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A history of bank holidays

In the U.K. we are about to enjoy a bank holiday weekend.  For those of you in countries where this is not observed, a bank holiday weekend means that (unless you work in certain industries, like retail), there is a strong chance that you will have Saturday, Sunday, and Monday off work – effectively giving you a long weekend.

Whilst we are all very happy to observe these days, relatively few people know the origins of bank holidays in the U.K.  As it’s Friday, and everyone in the office is in a good mood and looking forward to their long weekend, we thought we’d share some bank holiday trivia with you.

  • Prior to 1834, the Bank of England observed no fewer than 33 saints’ days and religious days as holidays. In 1834, however, the number of days was cut substantially, to a meagre four: Good Friday, May Day (1st May), All Saints’ Day (1st November), and Christmas Day.

  • In 1871, the first legislation regarding bank holidays was passed, and ensured that no-one was obliged to “make any payments or conduct business that s/he wouldn’t typically make/do on Christmas Day or Good Friday”. The English, not widely known for their joy and exuberance, were so thankful that these days were, for a time, known as St Lubbock’s Days after Sir John Lubbock, the man responsible for their introduction.  Scotland was treated separately from England, to reflect the different traditions in the two countries.

  • In 1703, St Patrick’s Day (17th March) was added in Ireland.

  • New Year’s Day did not become a bank holiday in England until as recently as 1974 (somewhat ironic as the same year also gave us the infamous ‘three-day week’). The May Day bank holiday was formally introduced even later, in 1978.

  • The philosophy behind the August bank holiday was to extend British holidays over the summer period.

  • In 1968 and 1969, the August bank holiday Monday actually fell in September.

  • Royal Proclamation is invoked to ensure that bank holidays that fall on a weekend (Saturday or Sunday) are not “lost” but carried forward to the next working day.

  • Easter Monday is not considered to be a bank holiday in Scotland.

  • There are calls for more bank holidays including: St David’s Day (1st March), St George’s Day (23rd April), and St Piran’s Day (patron saint of Cornwall- 5th March), though this is observed in parts of the county only.

  • Harold Wilson called for a non-statutory bank holiday on 15th March 1968 after meeting with the privy council on the previous day. This was so that the U.K. could close the gold market, mitigating the damages as a result of losses suffered by the British pound!

We can’t wait for the office quiz later!

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