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UK Bank Holidays

Some history ....

  • Bank holidays were first introduced (in the UK [of Great Britain & the whole of Ireland at the time]) by the Bank Holidays Act of 1871. Bank Holidays are days when banks may close for business. The law makes provision for certain payments to be deferred until the next appropriate day. The measure was primarily due to a campaign by Sir John Lubbock (from 1900 1st Baron Avebury), who campaigned for the rights of shop workers, ensuring the passage of the Act; he also sponsored the Early Closing Act of 1904. He was a Liberal MP, for Maidstone 1870-1874, then for London University 1880-1900. He died in 1913.
  • The 1871 Act designated four holidays in England, Wales and Ireland (then wholly part of the UK), and five in Scotland (as under).

    England, Wales & Ireland (1871 Act):
    Easter Monday, the first Monday in August, the 26th December (or the following Monday if the latter fell on a Sunday), and Whit Monday. (In England, Wales & 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 .. unlike for Scotland (below).
    Scotland (1871 Act):
    New Year's Day, Good Friday, the first Monday in May, the first Monday in August and Christmas Day.
  • The 1871 Act was repealed (replaced) 100 years later and its provisions incorporated into the Banking and Financial Dealings Act 1971, which is the current (UK-wide) statutory basis for bank holidays .. since Devolution, some of the constituent parts of the UK can vary these provisions, and in Scotland, the dates of various holidays are a matter for the Scottish Executive. (Of course, non of it now applies to the Republic of Ireland, except where 'legacy' law has been incorporated into the statutes of that country.)
  • The 1971 Act covered the following:
    1. Whit Monday in England, Wales & Northern Ireland was formally replaced by a fixed 'spring holiday' on the last Monday in May. The last Monday in August was formally made a bank holiday in place of the first Monday in August in England, Wales & Northern Ireland. In both cases, this followed a trial period of the new arrangements: for the move of August Bank Holiday since 1965, and the Spring holiday in 1967. (NB: these arrangements left the August BH as the first Monday in Scotland.)
  • Bank holidays are not automatically 'public' holidays. In many parts of England, Wales and Northern Ireland, bank holidays have become widely observed [ and often referred to as 'Public Holidays' ], and many employees' terms of employment include an entitlement to paid holiday on such days, but this is a matter for agreement between employer and workers, and NOT a matter of law. In Scotland, although bank holidays are observed in the banking / financial sector, they have less significance than elsewhere; the public and business community in Scotland tend to observe various local and traditional days; these are often defined by local authorities or the Executive.
  • There are currently 8 permanent bank and public holidays in England, Wales and Scotland and 10 in Northern Ireland. These include Christmas Day and Good Friday, which in England, Wales and Northern Ireland are 'common law' holidays - they are not specified by law as bank holidays but have become customary holidays because of common observance.
  • Substitute days are customarily appointed for all UK bank and public holidays which fall on Saturday and Sunday by the rules above. For the most part (there are exceptions), the substitute day is normally the following Monday.

Some variations ....

  • In 1973, the 2nd January was created an additional Bank Holiday in Scotland - this was allowed for in the 1971 Act (above), but not enabled until this year.
  • In 1974, New Year's Day became an additional bank holiday in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and Boxing Day became an additional bank holiday in Scotland.
  • In 1978, the first Monday in May in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and the last Monday in May in Scotland, became additional bank holidays. (The first Monday in May was already a Bank Holiday in Scotland - see above.)

Other background notes ....

  • Bank Holidays since the 1971 Act are appointed each year by Royal Proclamation. In fact, a Bank Holiday can be designated in this way in an emergency situation, for example when the government wants to stop currency dealing, or for special occasions such as the Millennium holiday in 1999 and the Queen's Golden Jubilee in 2002. (March 1968 saw a notable occasion when an emergency meeting of the Privy Council was held in the middle of the night, attended by the Queen, to declare a one-off Bank Holiday to stem losses in the London Gold markets).
  • A Bank Holiday has come, by convention, to be classed as a Public Holiday (listed as BPH in the list below) for England, Wales & Northern Ireland - this follows from days before electronic banking, when banks were shut, so businesses could not operate (though in practice of course, there were always exceptions - i.e. railways, emergency services, hospitals etc.)
  • The Anniversary of the Battle of the Boyne bank holiday (Northern Ireland only), is proclaimed annually by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. This was introduced in 1926 by the then Governor of Northern Ireland.
  • St. Patrick's Day Holiday (17th March), was introduced by special Act of Parliament in 1903: at the time, this UK legislation would have applied to the whole of Ireland, but it's specific provisions only now apply to Northern Ireland - however the day is of course a Public Holiday in the Republic as well.
  • Boxing Day is taken as the 26th December: if the 26th falls on a Sunday, then the day should strictly be taken on the following weekday (e.g. if Christmas Day is on a Saturday, Boxing Day should be on the Monday). In practice though, this is often neglected, and the day following the 25th December is often referred to as 'Boxing Day' even if that day is a Sunday.

A check list of current Bank/Public Holidays

 Holiday  England & Wales  Northern Ireland  Scotland
 New Year's Day (1st January*) BPH BPH BH
 New Year (additional)
(2nd January*)
 St. Patrick
(17th March*)
 Good Friday
 Easter Monday
(1st Monday in May)
(Last Monday in May)
 Battle of the Boyne
(12th July*)
(1st Monday in August)
(last Monday in August)
 Christmas Day
(25th December*)
 Boxing Day
(26th December*)



* - or the following Monday (or Tuesday) if the day falls on a weekend
BPH - Bank & Public Holiday
BH - Bank Holiday
HBC - Holiday by convention ('common law')