Why do we have Bank Holidays?

For over 150 years in the UK we have enjoyed the benefits of bank holidays and, with them, the pleasing prospect of a long weekend. There are usually eight in total throughout the year in England and Wales, nine in Scotland and 10 in Northern Ireland. But why do we have bank holidays? And, furthermore, did you know that the UK has the lowest number per year in Europe?

The Bank Holiday Act

The origins of bank holidays can be traced back to the 19th century. The Bank Holiday Act of 1871 was introduced by Sir John Lubbock, a banker, politician and the first Baron of Avebury. The act created four statutory public holidays in England, Wales and Ireland: Easter Monday, Whit Monday (the day after Pentecost), the first Monday in August and Boxing Day. These stood in addition to Good Friday and Christmas Day, which were already recognised as common law holidays.

St Lubbock’s Days

In Scotland, the newly created public holidays included New Year’s Day, Good Friday, the first Monday in May, the first Monday in August and Christmas Day. The term “bank holiday” refers to the fact that financial institutions would close for business on these days, although this grew to include schools, businesses, shops and the government too. For some time after the act was passed, the holidays were known as “St Lubbock’s Days” in honour of the man who introduced them.

Avoiding a clash

Exactly 100 years after the Bank Holiday Act of 1871, the Banking and Financial Dealings Act of 1971 was passed. This is the act which regulates all bank holidays in the UK. Under this act, the August bank holiday was moved from the first Monday of the month to the last. Many businesses traditionally closed for two weeks at the beginning of August, so the change was implemented to avoid clashing with this.

In 1971, the Whit Monday bank holiday was replaced by the Late Spring Bank Holiday. The date for this was fixed as the last Monday in May. The New Year’s Day bank holiday was introduced in 1974, and the May Day bank holiday followed in 1978.

The UK has the lowest number of bank holidays in Europe, whereas, in comparison, Austria has the most at 13. Globally, the country with the most public holidays is Nepal, with a record number of 35.

Special occasions

Additional bank holidays have been added to the British calendar in recognition of certain events. For example, on 29 April 2011, the UK enjoyed an extra bank holiday to mark the wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton. On 3 June 2022, an extra bank holiday was granted in celebration of Queen Elizabeth’s Platinum Jubilee. And then on 9 September that same year, a second bank holiday was added to the calendar to mark the funeral of the Queen.

Here at Rose Calendars, these additional bank holidays can present us with some challenges as we work 18 months in advance. So, a last-minute addition to the calendar can cause a few headaches for our production department! This was the case in 2020, when the May Bank Holiday was moved from the traditional Monday to the Friday, to coincide with the anniversary of VE Day. Accuracy is of course vital in our business, so we are always prepared to adapt to whatever challenges come our way.

Although the UK may lag behind the rest of the world when it comes to public holidays, we can all appreciate the joy of a long weekend and a well-deserved break from our normal routines.

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