1st May 2015 at 3:52pm
Who doesn’t love a three day weekend? With the May Bank Holiday looming many of us will now be thinking how to make the most of it, hoping to be reaching for the sun screen instead of the Sowester. But where do these welcome breaks derive from?
A selfish Act
Back in1871 the days banks closed had been rather haphazard across the country meaning cheques were delayed or bills not paid on time. Enough was enough for Sir John Lubbock so he introduced an Act of Parliament to standardise the days.
The Act designated four special days in England, Wales and Ireland (Easter Monday, Whit Monday, the first Monday in August and 26 December) and five in Scotland. Lubbock, a banker to trade, was also it would appear an avid cricket fan, as it’s said that the dates he chose fell rather conveniently in with the timings of village matches played in his home county.
What’s interesting to note is that these were never intended to be national holidays at all. When the Victorian Members of Parliament were debating the Act, their biggest concern was that other organisations and the general public should not regard these days as holidays. And yet, thanks to Sir John, the genie was out the bottle and the Bank Holiday born, with its popularity growing quickly. So popular in fact was this bold new concept to introduce holidays with pay, there were even suggestions that the August Bank Holiday should be called St Lubbock’s Day. They did however end up getting a bit of a bad reputation for themselves as were associated with working people drinking too much. The August Bank Holiday being seen as especially notorious.
It’s a tradition
Although our Bank Holidays were made by the Victorians, they are actually rooted in traditions which run far deeper than the holidays themselves. They underlined existing days of celebration. Mid-August, for example, was a traditional time for seaside bathing holidays, even before the advent of the railways.
May Days roots as a holiday even stretch back to pre-Christian pagan festivals, and the Gaelic Beltane. It’s a rural tradition associated with spring and fertility. And the familiar rituals of dancing around the Maypole and the crowning of the May Queen made it a popular seasonal celebration in medieval England.
Time for a polish
The 1871 Act was repealed 100 years later transforming itself into the Banking and Financial Dealings Act 1971, which is still the current UK norm for Bank Holidays
The Act added New Year’s Day and fixed the day of Whit Monday to the last day of May. It also changed the August bank holiday from the first Monday of the month to the last. And additional holidays were added in the following few years, including New Year’s Day, and the first Monday in May.
By Royal Command
Our Bank Holidays even come with the royal seal of approval. Bank Holidays are appointed each year by Royal Proclamation. In fact, a Bank Holiday can be designated in this way in an emergency situation, for example when the government wants to stop currency dealing, or for what are deemed special occasions. March 1968 saw a notable occasion when an emergency meeting of the Privy Council was held in the middle of the night, attended by the Queen, to declare a one-off Bank Holiday to stem losses in the London Gold markets.
What’s in a name?
In this age of internet banking and teller-less services, the name ‘Bank Holiday’ may seem a little outdated, yet I don’t think there’s a soul amongst us that will quibble over the point, it’s a welcome day off work by any name. Enjoy.