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Bank holiday history Posted On 17 April 2019

Bank Holiday

Every year there are eight bank holidays in England, Wales and Scotland – and ten in Northern Ireland. But why do we have them?

The first legislation for bank holidays dates back to 1871 when Sir John Lubbock, a Liberal politician, introduced the ‘Bank Holidays Act 1871’. Lubbock was a keen Cricket fan and the days happened to coincide with his village teams matches. The Act specified Easter Monday, Whit Monday, Boxing day and the first Monday in August as bank holidays.

Under the Act, ‘no person was compelled to make any payment or to do any act upon a bank holiday which he would not be compelled to do or make on Christmas Day or Good Friday’.

But, why are they called ‘Bank holidays?’ Some suggest that it is because the term ‘Bank’ gives the date more importance than ‘Public’ and that if banks shut, then other businesses would do the same.

Later, starting in 1965, Parliament announced August bank holidays which were ‘to give a lead in extending British holidays over a longer summer period’. These were announced on an ad hoc basis each year, always being the last weekend of August.

100 years after the 1871 Act, the Banking and Financial Dealings Act 1971 was passed, which still regulates bank holidays in the UK today. Most of the current holidays were specified in this Act, however, New Year’s Day and May day weren’t introduced until 1974 and 1978, respectively. Whit Monday was replaced by the Late Spring bank holiday.

As many workers enjoy a Monday morning lay in, an extra day of sunshine in a beer garden or a short UK break, it is not surprising to hear that there are campaigns for extra bank holidays throughout the year. The most popular campaigned-for dates include the feast days of patron saints such as; St George and St David in England and Wales, respectively.

Ireland and Scotland already have St Patrick’s day and St Andrew’s day as bank holidays, with St Andrews day being the most recent addition having only been a bank holiday since 2008. As a way of trying to win votes, Jeremy Corbyn has said that he will introduce these last two patron saints’ days if he comes into power.

Bank holidays are proclaimed each year by the legal device of a royal proclamation, which means it can move them when they fall on a weekend, creating what are known as ‘substitute days’.

Did you know?
May is the only month to have two bank holidays, with the Early May bank holiday falling on the first Monday of the month and the Spring bank holiday, which replaced Whit Monday, on the last Monday of the month.

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