Why is a bank holiday called a bank holiday?

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There are eight bank holidays every year in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland, and nine in Scotland. We’re so used to the term signalling a few days off and a long weekend of meeting friends in the pub or attending barbecues that we don’t even think about its meaning. So, why is a bank holiday called a bank holiday?

Why is a bank holiday called a bank holiday?

Until 1834, there were 33 public holidays in the UK including saint’s days and religious festivals.

However, it was decided in 1834 that this was too much and should be reduced to four public holidays.

The Bank Holidays Act of 1871, written up by banker and liberal politician Sir John Lubbock, turned these four public holidays into ‘bank holidays’.

For the first few years of this act, people called bank holidays St Lubbock’s Day to honour Sir John Lubbock.

The Act forced banks and financial buildings to close on these four days, and that’s where the bank holiday gets its name.

Bank employees weren’t given the day off because they needed to organise the accounts and tidy things up.

Most banks are still closed with no staff working on bank holidays today, and even if you bank online or over the phone the transactions won’t go through until the bank holiday is over.

Over the years, other businesses such as shops and restaurants, as well as schools and the Government all closed on bank holidays.

Today, we’ve reverted back to the old ways and only banks and shops bigger than a specific size are required to shut.

It is optional for other businesses to close or remain open on these days.

You’ve probably done the maths and realised that we have far more than four bank holidays now than we did in 1871.

There are eight or nine bank holidays in England and Wales every year, they are:

  • New Year’s Day
  • Good Friday
  • Easter Monday
  • Early May Bank Holiday
  • Late May Bank Holiday
  • The Jubilee Bank Holiday (not every year but there will be in 2022)
  • August bank holiday
  • Christmas Day
  • Boxing Day

Eight or nine holidays a year sounds like a lot, but the UK is a nation with one of the fewest bank holidays a year in the world.

In fact, the only country with fewer public holidays is Mexico and they have seven.

Scotland and Northern Ireland have their own bank holidays exclusive to their countries.

The additional holidays for Scotland are January 2, First Monday in August, and St Andrew’s Day.

The additional holiday for Northern Ireland is St Patrick’s Day, but this is also a holiday in the Republic of Ireland.

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