Bank Holidays in the UK were introduced in 1871 by banker and politician John Lubbock, the first Baron of Avebury. As well as his banking and political activities Sir John was also a scientific writer and tried to teach his dog to read.
According to Horace G. Hutchinson in the Life of Sir John Lubbock, Lord Avebury, Volume 1, his political aims were threefold:
- To promote the study of Science, both in Secondary and Primary Schools
- To quicken the repayment of the National Debt
- To secure some additional holidays, and to shorten the hours of labour in shops.
The Bank of England started it
Before Sir John formalised Bank Holidays the Bank of England and the Exchequer took a large number of holidays (circa 40) to celebrate royal events, festivals and saint’s days!
The Bill introduced statutory bank holidays 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.
Initially, the Bank Holiday Act of 1871 allowed for the closure of banks and other financial institutions, but as time has gone on businesses, some shops, government, and schools, colleges and universities have also chosen to close. There is no statutory obligation for them to do so, just as there is no statutory right to have time off on a bank holiday; it is all dependent on what is in an employee’s contract of employment.
A hundred years after Sir John’s Bank Holiday Act was passed, the original Act was repealed and incorporated into the Banking and Financial Dealings Act of 1971 which also created some new bank holidays.
The media were impressed
The News of the World proclaimed:
Blessings on the head of Sir John Lubbock, who invented a decent excuse for holidays to Englishmen. We never wished for a revival of Saint’s days, but we certainly did wish that some great inventive genius could discover a reason why the people should not work all the year round, Sundays, Good Fridays, and Christmas days excepted … Sir John has shown of himself to be an inventor of the highest order, and his great reputation as a man of science has been enhanced by the invention of Bank Holidays.
News of The World
Six facts about the UK’s Bank Holidays
- They were originally known as St Lubbock’s Days after the banker we need to thank for our Bank Holidays – not surprisingly that name didn’t stick!
- Until 1971 the August Bank Holiday was on the first Monday of the month – however, due to clashes with traditional two week summer company shut downs, it was moved to the last Monday in August.
- Until 1834 there were 33 public holidays in the UK.
- Before 1830 the Bank of England closed on approximately 40 saints days and anniversaries.
- Only Mexico has less Bank Holidays than the UK – India has 21.
- Until 1971, the second Bank Holiday in May fell on Whit Sunday which was seven Sunday after Easter Sunday. To make things simpler it is now held on the last Monday in May and doesn’t have an ‘official name’.
‘Hooligans’ and ‘Beatniks’
The introduction of Bank Holidays did have some unintended consequences as reported in the 1960’s by The Times: