August Bank Holiday Monday is the last of the general public holidays in the UK until we stumble upon Christmas. Typically, families use this time to catch one last long weekend trip, visit a music festival, catch up with friends and distant relatives and generally have one last ‘blow-out’ before the schools return into full swing for the Autumn term a few days later.
Although people may not think the humble Bank Holiday is a festival as such, it is observed throughout the year in the UK and celebrated by large sectors of the British public ( not withstanding the poor souls in the retail and emergency services!). If only for this reason alone, it would be rude not to look at the potted history of this event and also to gather some true stories from families surrounding their experience of the good old August Bank Holiday.
Before 1834, the Bank of England closed for around 33 saint’s days and anniversaries, but this was reduced to 18 and then four. The four remaining ones originally fell on May Day (May 1st), All Saint’s Day (November 1st), Good Friday and Christmas Day.
In 1871 a Liberal Politician and banker called Sir John Lubbock established the Bank Holiday Act. This act stated that no person should be made to make any payment or carry out any work which they’d not had to do on Christmas Day or Good Friday either. Within the Bank Holiday Act new days were observed. These were to be Easter Monday, Whit Monday, the First Monday in August and Boxing Day. The people of 1871 were so grateful to Sir Lubbock that some called the first set of Bank Holidays ‘St Lubbock’s Day’.
Today, Bank Holidays apply to everyone; not just the banks! In 1971 the current bank holiday days were established. The date of August Bank Holiday was changed from the first Monday in August to the last Monday and Whit Monday was replaced by a Late Spring bank Holiday at the end of May. In 1978 the first Monday in May was set as a Bank Holiday in the UK.
In 1954, a Northern UK town called Newark experienced 5000 of its factory workers ‘down tools’ and break for a two week holiday all at the same time. This phenomenon became known as ‘Factory Fortnight’ or ‘Stop Fortnight’ when factory workers would shut down for the last week of July and first week in August to holiday in Spain or other warm countries with their families. These days the Factory Fortnight is dwindling away around the country, but families still like to book extended holiday time around the August Bank Holiday to go away, see friends, visit the beaches and generally relax before the start of the new school term and the Autumn.
I recently posted a far-reaching message on social media, asking for stories from anyone- local or otherwise- who had memories of their own families’ activities over Bank Holidays in the 70’s and 80’s and also that of ‘Factory Fortnight’. Some wonderful stories returned, mainly of families camping in Cornwall and counting every single day as a special one. The summers ‘back then’ were hot and the water was cool. One reader recalled: ‘We used to go on day trips to Tenby, West Wales, North Wales and Port Meirion. Caravanning trips were only every other year as my parents couldn’t afford every year. My dad used to take the last week of July and the first week of August off when all the electrical and plumbing firms shut down for the fortnight. They were fun trips and good times’.
Another recalled, ‘I was a latch-key kid . My dad was a bus –driver and my mum worked as a bank clerk all year round. When she wasn’t doing that, she would clean people’s houses, so I would head off to my friend’s houses or the park with my gang. I’d sometimes have a pound note in my pocket and that would buy my food for the day. If my parents weren’t working, Bank Holidays were really special as we’d all pile into dad’s mini and head off to Devon camping or to Butlins for the long weekend. Whatever we did, I had fun. I loved staying out and playing until after the street lamps had switched on. It felt like we were being really naughty by staying out that late in the summer. When we stayed at Butlins, my sisters, friends and I had the chalet to ourselves whilst mum and dad went dancing. If we needed them, an assistant would call their number over the tannoy. We had loads of freedom and it was brilliant fun. We didn’t need loads of telly or any video games, we just larked about, telling stories and jokes; generally being very silly.
One wonders whether Sir John Lubbock would now be amazed at how his Bank Holiday as evolved over the 143 years since he first brought the bill into play!
Read more facts and stories about August Bank Holiday in ‘The Children’s Fab and Funsome Book of British Festivals’.
To find out more about what’s going on near you over the Bank Holiday, log on to:
© Tess Egerton 2015