Bank holidays are recognised public holidays. They were given their name because of the tradition of banks closing on these dates, forcing other businesses to close as no trading could take place.
The origins of Bank Holidays
Up until 1871 and the passing of the Bank Holiday Act, various dates had been observed as holidays by the Bank of England. Before 1834 these dates focused on religious festivals and saints days – giving around 30 days holiday a year.
In 1834 the Bank of England reduced the number of holidays it observed to just four. These were 1 May, 1 November, Good Friday and Christmas Day.
The Bank Holidays Act 1871
In 1871 Sir John Lubbock introduced the Bank Holidays Act that designated certain days as holidays for bankers.
One of the reasons for the additional bank holidays was that Sir John was a keen cricketer and believed that bank employees should be able to attend scheduled matches. The new bank holiday dates therefore reflected the dates that matches were traditionally played in Sir Johns local villages.
The new bank holidays recognised by the 1871 Act included:
Bank holidays in England and Wales
Easter Monday.The last Monday in May.The last Monday in August.26th December, if it be not a Sunday 27th December in a year in which 25th or 26th December is a Sunday.
Bank holidays in Scotland
New Year’s Day, if it be not a Sunday or, if it be a Sunday, 3rd January.2nd January, if it be not a Sunday or, if it be a Sunday, 3rd January.Good Friday.The first Monday in May.The first Monday in August.Christmas Day, if it be not a Sunday or, if it be a Sunday, 26th December.
Bank holidays in Northern Ireland
17th March, if it be not a Sunday or, if it be a Sunday, 18th March.Easter Monday.The last Monday in May.The last Monday in August.26th December, if it be not a Sunday.27th December in a year in which 25th or 26th December is a Sunday.
Though the Act doesn’t include Good Friday and Christmas Day, these were observed as common law holidays as it was the custom for these to be holidays. Good Friday and Christmas Day remained as recognised holidays in England, Wales and Ireland.
The Bank Holiday (Ireland) Act 1903 added the date of St Patrick’s Day (17 March) as a bank holiday for Ireland only.
Current Bank Holidays and Public Holidays
Current bank holidays and public holidays are regulated by the Banking and Financial Dealings Act 1971.
This Act includes New Year’s Day and May Day (the 1st Monday in May) as bank holidays, which are deemed as holidays each year by Royal Proclamation.
The method of legally deeming days as bank holidays by Royal Proclamation ensures that holidays aren’t lost if they fall on a weekend.
St Andrew’s Day Bank Holiday (Scotland) Act was given Royal Assent in January 2007, making 30 November (or the nearest Monday if a weekend day) a new bank holiday for Scotland.