The man who brought us bank holidays
The right honourable Lord Avebury was an eccentric character, to say the least. Known to his friends as John Lubbock, he kept wasps as pets and once tried to teach his poodle, Van, how to read. He was a certified jack-of-all-trades, dabbling in a variety of careers including banker, politician, author, philanthropist, archaeologist, anthropologist, entomologist, and geologist.
However, after the canine literature lessons failed, there is no doubt about his greatest achievement. It’s one that cheerfully affects us at least six days of the year, even if bank holidays, or Lubbock’s Day as they were formerly known, were a sort-of compromise to the 33 days of holiday enjoyed by the Bank of England, the Exchequer and other public offices, up until 1834.
These holidays were more in keeping with the (Catholic) European tradition of celebrating Saints’ Days, observing religious festivals, but also Royal events and one-off acknowledgments, such as ‘London Burnt’ to commemorate the Great Fire of London. In 1845 this was whittled down to a paltry four: Good Friday, May Day, 1st November, and Christmas Day.
The reason for this drastic reduction, which took place at the end of the industrial revolution, was to exert some sort of control over the voluminous days being taken off by public offices and to curb the random holidays being taken locally by factories. During all this, outside of Sundays, banks were virtually unable to close at all, to do so would have put them at the risk of financial ruin.
Enter Lubbock who, in 1871, drafted the Bank Holiday Bill. This meant that any business due on a new-fangled bank holiday was suspended until the following day, and the resulting delay in business would not incur any penalties. Subsequently, a list of officially recognised bank holidays was passed into law.
Lubbock permitted an additional four bank holidays in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland: Easter Monday, the first Monday in August, Boxing Day, and Whit Monday in June. Scotland, however, had an additional five: New Year's Day, Good Friday, the first Monday in May, the first Monday in August, and Christmas Day.
But first, what’s all this bank holiday stuff? Why isn’t it just a public holiday? Initially, it was just banks and financial buildings that would close, but as time went on, this trickled down to us mere mortals, so businesses, shops, schools and the like would shut as well.
By the time Lubbock’s Bill was reformed 100 years later in 1971, everyone, not just bankers, benefitted from the original bank holiday.
Whit Monday, the day after Whit Sunday (or Pentecost, acknowledging the visitation of the Holy Spirit to the praying disciples) occurs exactly seven weeks after Easter. This was formally replaced by the Spring Bank Holiday in May 1971. So, for once, you’ve not been short-changed by the bankers.
Even better, the date of the August Bank Holiday, which, in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland, used to be on the first Monday in August, was moved to the end of the month, so it didn’t clash with the annual two weeks shut down that many companies enjoyed.
Let’s pause quickly, and take a look at where we’re at with a full list of all of the annual bank holidays in the UK:
- New Year's Day (UK)
- 2nd January (Scotland)
- St Patrick's Day (Northern Ireland)
- Good Friday (UK)
- Easter Monday (England, Wales, and Northern Ireland)
- Early May Bank Holiday (UK)
- Spring Bank Holiday (UK)
- Battle of the Boyne (Northern Ireland)
- First Monday in August (Scotland)
- Last Monday in August (England, Wales, and Northern Ireland)
- St. Andrew's Day (Scotland)
- Christmas Day (UK)
- Boxing Day (UK)
While the above list has been pretty much the standard for the past forty-plus years, there have been a few additions, such as the Millennium Bank Holiday on 31st December 1999, and the Golden Jubilee Bank Holiday on Monday 3 June 2002. Monday, 3rd June 2022 was chosen again as a bank holiday in recognition of Queen Elizabeth’s Palatium Jubilee celebrations, but none of this goes to explain why Sir John Lubbock initiated the 1871 Bank Holiday Bill in the first place. Was it pure altruism, or was it to give Sir John some additional time off?
He was a very busy man after all and, as it turns out a huge fan of cricket. Therefore, the rumours that bank holiday dates fell on the days when village matches were played in his home county of Kent may not be so absurd after all.
I think we can forgive him that, though. Cheers John.
When is the next bank holiday?
The next bank holiday in the UK is Battle of the Boyne on Tuesday, 12th July which is observed only in Northern Ireland. Scotland's Summer Bank Holiday is on Monday, 1st August before the rest of the UK celebrates the Summer Bank Holiday on Monday, 29th August.
2022 bank holiday dates
- Tuesday, 12th July - Battle of the Boyne (Northern Ireland)
- Monday, 1st August - Summer Bank Holiday (Scotland)
- Monday, 29th August - Summer Bank Holiday (England, Wales, and Northern Ireland)
- Wednesday, 30th November - St. Andrew's Day (Scotland)
- Monday, 26th December - Boxing Day (UK)
- Tuesday, 27th December - Christmas Day substitute (UK)