Houses of Parliament

The Curious Case of British Bank Holidays


Bank Holidays may seem like a general term used for holidays in the British Isles, but as with most cultural events, there is always an interesting story behind everything…

On Bank Holidays in the United Kingdom, generally on a Monday, businesses and banks are closed.

But why are they called Bank Holidays, when it’s not just Banks who get the day off?

According to one story, The phrase Bank Holiday was originally initiated in the States. In 1933 President Franklin D. Roosevelt declared a bank holiday to help stop the money panic in the nation because the depositors had been withdrawing their funds with such speed that many banks ran out of money to pay over the counter.

This is a nice tale, but the truth is that Bank Holidays had been so named for about sixty years before the time of the Wall Street Crash.

In the early nineteenth century, the bank of England observed around 33 saints’ days and religious festivals as holidays each year. In 1834, this was reduced to just four.

Bank holidays were first introduced by the Bank Holidays Act of 1871, which designated four holidays in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and five in Scotland.

It has been suggested by some that the term ‘Bank’ was used in favour of ‘Public’ as it gave the holidays more importance, and that if banks shut, then other businesses would do the same.

St. Lubbock’s Days

Allegedly the four English holidays were picked by the MP Sir John Lubbock as they coincided with cricket matches.

These were Easter Monday, the first Monday in August, the 26th December, and Whit Monday (England, Wales and Northern Ireland) and New Year’s Day, Good Friday, the first Monday in May, the first Monday in August, and Christmas Day (Scotland).

In England, people were so thankful of the holidays that the Bank Holidays were nicknamed ‘St. Lubbock’s Days’.

In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, both Christmas Day and Good Friday were traditional days of rest and Christian worship (as were Sundays) and did not need to be included in the Act.

Bank Holidays in the United Kingdom

Early May Bank Holiday

First Monday in May. First celebrated in 1978. Britain has a long heritage of May Day celebrations dating back to pagan times that still have echoes in such customs as the Maypole. More information on the Early May Bank Holiday.

In 2011 the British parliament debated replacing the Early May bank holiday with a different holiday in October. This change would have spread out the bank holidays more evenly throughout the year as after the August Bank Holiday, it’s a barren period for public holidays until Christmas Day. In the end, it was decided not to change the date.

Spring Bank Holiday

Last Monday in May. Also known as the Late may Bank Holiday or anything you like, as it was never given an official name. It became a holiday in 1967. It replaced Whit Monday as a public holiday in the UK. More information on the Spring Bank Holiday.

August Bank Holiday

Observed on the last Monday in August in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. It is observed on the first Monday in August in Scotland. More information on the August Bank Holiday.