The Origins of Bank Holidays

In the UK we owe our statutory bank holidays to John Lubbock, first Baron of Avebury, scientific writer (who studied ants and tried to teach his poodle to read), banker and politician and who, in 1871,  drafted the Bank Holiday Bill  which, when it became law, created the first bank holidays.

Holy-days and holidays

The first meaning of holiday in the Oxford English Dictionary is: A consecrated day, a religious festival, (now usually written holy-day ). The definition takes its origin from the observance of religious festivals and saint’s days. The second meaning is: A day on which ordinary occupations ( of an individual or a community) are suspended; a day of exemption or cessation from work; a day of festivity, recreation, or amusement. (In early use not separable from sense. 1)

Bank  Holidays

Statutory bank holidays were introduced by the 1871 Bank Holiday Act and were days when the Bank of England and banks could  close. The Act made provision for no financial dealing to occur on that day and bills or promissory notes that were due on that day were not payable until the following day and did not incur any penalties. Before this time banks were unable to close on weekdays as to do so would have put them at the risk of bankruptcy.  But once the act was on the statute books, bank staff were able to have fixed holidays. Other employees had more informal arrangements with their employers and took their holidays to fit around the business and trade.

The first bank holidays were Easter Monday, Whit Monday, the first Monday in August and  Boxing Day, in England, Wales and Ireland. In Scotland they were New Year’s Day, Good Friday, the first Monday in May, the first Monday in August, and Christmas Day.

Confusingly, there were also public holidays , which are common law holidays that came about through habit and custom, these were Christmas  Day and Good Friday in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Today, the terms public and bank holiday have become interchangeable.

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