As we enter September, it’s a really interesting time to look back in history and discover where and why we lost 11 days in 1752! This signified a very unusual period in Britain’s history where the country “lost” 11 days due to an act of parliament. Reportedly this led to confusion, disruption and protests from angry mobs. But how and why did this happen? Read on to find out.
Time for a change
Until 1750, the calendar used by Britain and its colonies was the Julian system, which was introduced by Julius Caesar around 45 BC. It replaced the Roman republican calendar, which was a complicated method based on the phases of the moon. The Julian calendar was based on the time it took the Earth to revolve around the Sun, but it was not an accurate system. Under the Julian calendar, a leap day was added to February every four years, but this was too frequent. As a result, the Julian calendar ended up falling out of sync with the astronomical seasons. Most of Western Europe adhered to the Gregorian system, which was introduced by Pope Gregory XIII in 1582. Also known as the Western or Christian calendar, it is the predominant system used around the world today.
The proposed switch to the Gregorian calendar was debated in parliament between Britain’s rival political parties, the Whigs and the Tories. The former was in favour of the change whereas the latter was vehemently against it.
The reform was brought in through the Calendar (New Style) Act of 1750, but the changes were far from easy. In the Julian calendar, New Year began on 25th March, so when the switch was made to the Gregorian calendar this meant that the year 1751 lasted for just 282 days. The year 1752 then began on 1 January. To add further confusion, 11 days needed to be dropped from that calendar year to bring it in line with the rest of Europe. It was therefore decreed that Wednesday 2nd September would be followed by Thursday 14th September.
Disruption and confusion
The changes to the calendar affected festivals, the payments of wages and rents, military discharges and prison releases. This caused confusion and suspicion among the people of Britain, with many fearing that they had been cheated out of their wages. Some sources claim that this led to riots, with protestors chanting: “Give us back our 11 days!” However, most historians now agree that the riots were a myth.
One man in particular benefited from the changing of the calendar in a rather ingenious way. William Willet of Endon, Staffordshire, claimed that he could dance non-stop for 12 days and 12 nights, and took bets on the prospect from his fellow villagers. He started dancing around the village on the evening of 2nd September and promptly stopped dancing the next morning. The date, thanks to the calendar change, was 14th September, and so William happily claimed his money.
So, despite the confusion and chaos, the calendar reforms of September 1752 were not such a bad thing for everyone!