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Historical Note

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. 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, 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.

Two additional days were subsequently appointed in Northern Ireland: St Patrick's Day (17 March) by a special Act of Parliament in 1903 and 12 July (Anniversary of the Battle of the Boyne in 1690), by the Governor of Northern Ireland in 1926.

The 1871 Act was repealed 100 years later and its provisions incorporated into the Banking and Financial Dealings Act 1971, which remains the statutory basis for bank holidays. The following changes were introduced both then and subsequently:

  • 1971 - Whit Monday in England, Wales and Northern Ireland (which could fall anywhere between 11 May and 14 June) 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 and Northern Ireland. In both cases, this followed a trial period of the new arrangements between 1965 and 1970
     
  • 1973 - 2 January was created an additional bank holiday in Scotland by the 1971 Act. However, the provision did not come into effect until 1973.
     
  • 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.
     
  • 1978 - the first Monday in May in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and the last Monday in May in Scotland, became additional bank holidays.

Bank holidays designated since the 1971 Act are appointed each year by Royal Proclamation. The Anniversary of the Battle of the Boyne bank holiday is proclaimed annually by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.