A is for August Bank Holiday, which is this weekend, yay!
In England, we have eight public holidays per year. The easy ones to understand are Christmas Day, Boxing Day, Good Friday, Easter Monday and New Year’s Day. The others are not quite so straightforward. Why do we have August Bank Holiday, for example? And why do we call them bank holidays? We need to go back to the nineteenth century to find out.
The Bank of England, founded in 1694, observed around 33 religious festivals, including saints’ days, as holiday, but that changed in 1834 when they reduced to four! And slavery had been abolished in the previous year. Just for interest, they were
May Day – 1 May
All Saint’s Day – 1 November
These holidays became known as Bank Holidays because, in general, if the banks didn’t work, there was no point in other businesses working.
In 1871, the Liberal MP John Lubbock, who himself had been a banker, put forward a bill to go through parliament to give workers an extra four days off:
The first Monday in August
Whitsun Monday (the first Monday in May)
Fortunately for the rest of us workers, the Bank Holidays Act of 1871 was passed. Good Friday and Christmas Day weren’t included because they were already recognised as common law holidays.
In 1971, the Banking and Financial Dealings Act was passed, which is the legislation that regulates the bank holidays that we have today. It covered most of the bank holidays that we have today, except for New Year’s Day and May Day. These two days were introduced in 1974 (New Year’s Day) and 1978 (May Day). In 1965, the date of the August Bank Holiday was changed from the first Monday in August to the last Monday of the month. In 1971, Whitsun Bank Holiday was replaced by the Late Spring Bank Holiday, the last Monday in May.
What I didn’t know until I started researching this was that bank holidays are proclaimed every year by way of Royal Proclamation, and to move any bank holidays that fall on weekends (so that we still get two bank holidays when Christmas Day falls on a Saturday and Boxing Day falls on a Sunday, for example).
So that’s why we have bank holidays.
© Susan Shirley