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We all love a bank holiday weekend, don’t we? Even though we often take them for granted, there is plenty of history behind those eight extra days off during the year.

Contrary to popular opinion bank holidays are not necessarily an automatic day off, though because banks are closed and commerce struggles, most people are granted the day off work. Those that do work are also often offered double or even triple their pay for their efforts.

The first bank holidays came about officially in 1871, with the Bank Holidays Act. This laid out official days that would be classed as bank holidays. This originally omitted Christmas Day and Good Friday as they were already marked out as days of rest.


Initially there were four bank holidays in England, Scotland and Wales and five in Scotland. Scotland’s placing of importance on the New Year meant New Year’s Day was a bank holiday. In 1903 Ireland also received St Patrick’s Day as a day off as it was seen as a national day.

In 1971 the act was added to the Banking and Financial Dealing Act and this set out some additional dates. Amazingly, New Year’s Day did not officially become a bank holiday until the 1st of January 1974.

Prior to the 1870s there had also been days off, however these were more sporadic and there was no defined days.

Calls for more

Nowadays we often hear calls for extra bank holidays and the Queen’s Birthday for instance, or A British Day is often called to be marked with a national holiday. In addition, we must also be aware that the UK’s four countries do not have the same bank holidays. The differences in the UK’s make up means that bank holidays are not consistent in each country.

However, the reality of this situation is that these national days off are not declared in statute or proclamation, in the same manner as bank holidays. This means that national holidays are not bank holidays. Those that work on days are not entitled to extra pay and there can be no call for compensation, though you will be covered for a work injury claim on a day like this. That said most employers will offer extra money for working.


Of course, because certain bank holidays can occur on any day of the week, this means that they may fall on the weekend. Christmas and Boxing Day are two such occasions. If these occur on a Saturday or a Sunday, a mid-week day is the offered in lieu. So, if they both occur on a Saturday and Sunday, then Monday and Tuesday are bank holidays.

As you can see bank holidays in the UK are not as straight forward as you imagine and there is plenty of interesting history behind the day off.

This post was produced by Cormac Reynolds who writes articles on a variety of subjects and like most of us is a lover of bank holidays.

Image by Mrs Magic via Flickr

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