Earlier this week I was talking to friends when someone reminded me that this coming Monday was the summer bank holiday; spelling the end to our summer... well what we've had of it anyway! After that, we’re into September, and it is then only a matter of time until the countdown to Christmas starts. It will be 116 days or 16 weeks and four days just in case you're wondering.
This got me thinking… when did bank holidays come about and why did banks get ‘extra’ holidays in the first place? Working in the financial industry I thought I should probably try and find an answer and thanks to the wonders of Wikipedia and the BBC, it turns out that they have been around much longer than I thought.
In the early nineteenth century, the Bank of England had observed around 33 saints' days and religious festivals as holidays. By 1834, this had been reduced to just four; 1st May, 1st November, Good Friday and Christmas Day.
In 1871, Liberal politician and (as you guessed it...) banker, Sir John Lubbock, introduced the Bank Holidays Act which recognised an additional four holidays*; Easter Monday, Whit Monday, the first Monday of August and Boxing Day. It was suggested that these were named 'bank' holidays as opposed to public holidays as it gave them more importance. But why did he choose these dates? Allegedly Sir Lubbock was an avid cricket fan and he chose them to coincide with when the village matches were played in his home county.
A century later, the Banking and Financial Dealings Act 1971 was passed which specified the majority of the bank holidays we have now. New Year's Day and May Day, however, were not introduced throughout the whole of the UK until 1974 and 1978 respectively. The August bank holiday was changed from the first Monday in August to the last Monday in August, and the Whitsun bank holiday (Whit Monday) was replaced by the Late Spring Bank Holiday, which occurs the last Monday in May.
Since this time there has been further debate as to whether further changes to the bank holidays could be made, such as moving the ‘May Day’ bank holiday to October to be a "UK Day", or to St George's Day. This appears to be a matter that the British public are split upon, so perhaps we should just leave well alone and just enjoy the holidays for what most people see them as... a longer weekend in which to spend time with good friends and family!
* Bank Holidays in England