This is why we have bank holidays - and the history behind the Spring bank holiday in the UK

Friday, 28th May 2021, 2:11 pm
Do you have plans for this late May bank holiday? (Photo: Shutterstock)
Do you have plans for this late May bank holiday? (Photo: Shutterstock)

In May there are two bank holidays – the May Day bank holiday is the first of two bank holidays, and it takes place at the start of the month, and the Spring bank holiday takes place at the end. But why exactly do we have bank holidays?

This is everything you need to know about bank holidays - from their history to how many we have left in 2021 to enjoy.

Why do we have bank holidays?

Bank holidays were first introduced by banker, politician and scientific writer Sir John Lubbock, who drafted the Bank Holiday Act in 1871.

He added Easter Monday, Whit Monday, the first Monday in August and Boxing Day to the two common law holidays that already existed, which was Good Friday and Christmas Day.

Originally, it was just banks and financial buildings that closed on these dates, which is where the name “bank holiday” comes from.

A briefing paper from the House of Commons Library on bank and public holidays explains: “The Bank Holidays Act 1871 sought to address the fact that, while most employers were able to give their workers day off on “public” holidays, it was difficult for banks to do so because the holders of bills of exchange had the power to require payment on those days.”

Gradually, the likes of businesses, shops, schools and the Government also joined in on these holidays.

The Bank Holiday Act was repealed and replaced by the Banking and Financial Dealings Act 1971, which remains in force today.

What’s the difference between bank holidays and public holidays?

Bank holidays generally refer to the certain number of public holidays that we get every year - eight if you live in England and Wales, nine if you live in Scotland and 10 if you live in Northern Ireland

The Government explains that, according to the law, there is a distinction between the two holidays.

Bank holidays are holidays created under the Banking and Financial Dealings Act 1971, and they include days that are specifically listed in the Act, as well as days that are proclaimed by the Queen.

Public holidays are common law holidays in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and include Christmas Day and Good Friday. In Scotland, the term “public holiday” holds a different meaning, where it refers to specific local holidays.

While there is a difference between bank holidays and public holidays, the difference is largely academic and in practice generally operate in the same way.

In Scotland, bank holidays are a devolved issue. This enabled, in 2007, the creation of a ninth bank holiday, St Andrews Day.

Northern Ireland also has a proclaimed bank holiday to mark the Battle of Boyne, in addition to St Patrick’s Day which is listed in the 1971 Act.

When is the Spring bank holiday?

The Spring bank holiday will take place this year on Monday 31 May.

Originally, the second bank holiday in May started as the Monday after Pentecost, also known as Whitsun or Whit Monday. Whit Monday was a holiday marked after Pentecost, a Christian celebration that takes place 50 days after Easter Sunday.

It served to commemorate the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles and other followers of Jesus while they were in Jerusalem celebrating the Feast of Weeks.

Whit Monday would generally take place around the start of June but it was replaced with the Spring bank holiday in the UK in 1971 by the Banking and Financial Dealings Act 1971, following a trial period from 1965 to 1970.

This moved the date of the holiday from the beginning of June to the last Monday of May.

What bank holidays are left in 2021?

There are a number of bank holidays still to take place throughout the rest of the year in the UK.

If a bank holiday falls on a weekend, a ‘substitute’ weekend becomes a bank holiday instead, usually the following Monday.

In Scotland, these dates of the bank holidays that are left this year:

  • Spring bank holiday - Monday 31 May
  • Summer bank holiday - Monday 2 August
  • St Andrew’s Day - Tuesday 30 November
  • Christmas Day (substitute day) - Monday 27 December
  • Boxing Day (substitute day) - Tuesday 28 December

England and Wales mostly have the same line-up of bank holidays except the exemption of St Andrew’s Day on Monday 30 November, which is only observed in Scotland.

Bank holidays in Northern Ireland are, again, generally the same with only a few differences. Like England and Wales, St Andrew’s Day is not a bank holiday. Northern Ireland also has an additional bank holiday on Monday 12 July for Battle of the Boyne (Orangemen’s Day).

A version of this article originally appeared on our sister site NationalWorld