10 interesting facts about UK bank holidays

April 4, 2022

They used to be called public holidays, though today we know them as Bank Holidays. They were, after all, created by a banker. While you might have already been aware of that, here are ten interesting Bank Holiday facts that might surprise you.

1. There used to be 33 public holidays

Before 1834 there used to be an astonishing 33 public holidays that celebrated religious festivals and Saint’s Days; however, in 1934, the powers decided that was too many, so they reduced them to four.

2. Sir John Lubbock created modern bank holidays in 1871

Liberal MP, banker and polymath who also communicated with Charles Darwin on evolution, created the first bank holidays in 1871 through the Bank Holidays Bill. Informally called “St Lubbock Days”, they included Easter Monday, Whit Monday, the first Monday in August and Boxing Day. The bill added these to the existing two official holidays – Christmas Day and Good Friday – making six days in total – though previously, Whit Monday and Easter Monday were also generally considered holidays.

3. Banking and Financial Dealings Act 1971 now regulates UK bank holidays

In 1971 the Banking and Financial Dealings Act, which regulates Bank Holidays in the UK, restated the then-existing Bank Holidays Bill without granting any extra days off. Still, New Year’s Day was added as a Bank Holliday in 1974, and May Day was introduced in 1978.

4. Nowadays, new Bank Holidays are made by Royal Proclamation

Although the Queen isn’t directly involved in making the decision, new and special holidays are announced by Royal Proclamation – they don’t require an act of parliament. This system adds flexibility to the system.

5. Bank holidays in lieu

Should a bank holiday fall on a weekend, which can only apply to Christmas Day, Boxing Day, New Year’s Day and Saint’s Days, the holiday is taken in lieu at either side of the weekend.

6. England and Wales don’t do as well as Scotland and Ireland

While currently, there are eight bank holidays in England and Wales, Scotland enjoys an extra day off, making nine, and Ireland gets ten. In Ireland, St Patrick’s Day and Orangemen’s Day are bank holidays and in Scotland, so are 2nd January and St Andrew’s Day, though Scotland doesn’t get Easter Monday.

7. We have fewer bank holidays than most other places in the world

The only country with fewer public holidays than the UK is Mexico which has just seven. India has the most, with 21 public days off.

8. What became of Whit Monday Bank Holiday?

Whit Monday, also known as Pentecost Monday and celebrated by the Christian Church, was also a bank holiday. However, from 1965 to 1970, it was, as a trial, moved to the final Monday in May. Presumably, they found that this worked well, so it was moved officially to that day by the Banking and Financial Dealings Act 1971. We now call it Spring Bank Holiday.

9. The government almost moved May Day to October

While we associate May Day with Morris Men and dancing round the Maypole, in 2011, the Coalition Government attempted to move it to October and rename it either UK Day or Trafalgar Day. They intended to extend the holiday season. However, they were unsuccessful as opponents to the change argued that doing so would damage May Day festivals.

10. The TUC want four additional bank holidays – will we get them?

In 2021 the TUC called on the government to add four additional bank holidays. However, while we will get an extra day by Royal proclamation which will be added to bank holidays 2022 to celebrate the Queens Platinum Jubilee, that is a one-off and there is little sign the government is listening to the TUC’s pleas. So, the short answer is “No”.

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