When Britain takes a day off work, it calls the day a bank holiday. England has eight of them, Scotland has nine, and Northern Ireland has ten. Or at least, that was the 2020 count. The queen can add one if the mood takes her, and she’s done exactly that for the 70th anniversary of her queenship.
Why don’t we get a separate count of holidays for Wales and Cornwall? Because they’re still tucked under England’s wing, and every so often, if you listen carefully, you’ll hear a bit of uncomfortable squawking and rustling under there.
What do banks have to do with not working?
I’m so glad you asked. Bank holidays were introduced by the first Baron of Avebury, whose real name was John Lubbock. In 1871 he drafted the Bank Holiday Bill, which true to its name had a limited scope: It was about holidays for banks and financial buildings.
Buildings? Let’s assume they mean institutions. Buildings go on being buildings even when they’re empty and the doors are locked.
Listen, I only write this shit. I’m not what you’d call responsible for it.
If Lubbock sounds like Santa Claus, handing out days off work, he wasn’t. Bank holidays started before he came along, although I’m not sure they were called that. The Bank of England, the Exchequer, and other public offices took days off for royal events, Christian holidays, and assorted saint’s days (which I’d have lumped into the Christian Holidays category, but see above for me not being responsible). Add them all up and you got around 40 of them.
In 1830, that was cut back to 18, then cut to 4 in 1834. But a precedent had been established.
What did Lubbocks’s act really do?
Read the small print and you discover that the act wasn’t so much about creating holidays as it was about making sure that banks didn’t get penalized for shutting down on a weekday. Any financial wheeling and dealing was postponed till the next day. Bills and promissory notes that were due on bank holidays wouldn’t be due until the next day. But in the process, it standardized the days that were protected that way.
Now can I confuse the picture for a minute? Please?
Having told you about the many holidays banks used to take, let me quote another source that acknowledges them but also says that before the act banks couldn’t close on a weekday because they’d have been risking bankruptcy. You figure out how to fit those two together. I’m lost.
Over time, shops, schools, other businesses, and the government itself started closing down on bank holidays, but everyone still calls them bank holidays.
A bit of background
The industrial revolution–and the act came along in the middle of it–lent some oomph to the standardization of holidays. It was cheaper for a factory to shut down on a given day, or even for a given week, than to have people wander off wherever they wanted to.
Not that they could’ve wandered off without getting fired, mind you. But even the great industrialists–those fine folks who kept both adults and children working eighteen-hour days for the most minimal pay–couldn’t keep them working 365 days a year. Among other things, holidays had a religious origin, and theirs was still a religious culture.
Some things, even the industrialists couldn’t face down. Religious tradition was one of them.
Enough about the holidays. Let’s talk about Lubbock
Lubbock’s other claims to fame are that he was a science writer, a banker, and a politician. We can assume it was the collision of those last two claims that led him to think of standardizing bank holidays.
His science writing was more than just a rich man’s hobby. He published books on archeology, entomology, and animal intelligence, and it was in relation to that last subject that, as you’d expect from someone so sober and well connected, he tried to teach his poodle to read flash cards. The Britannica says his book “established him as a pioneer in the field of animal behavior.”
You can go tell that to my dogs. In spite of his experiments, they remain woefully illiterate.
In his writing on archeology, he introduced the words Paleolithic and Neolithic to the world, and in the spirit of high-minded racism, he titled his book Pre-historic Times, as Illustrated by Ancient Remains, and the Manners and Customs of Modern Savages. It was “probably the most influential archeological textbook of the nineteenth century.”
I don’t suppose I need to comment on that.
Having already become a baronet when his father died, he was later made a peer and took the title Lord Avebury, after the stone circle near Stonehenge that he bought in order to protect it from builders.
Okay, he bought the land it stood on. They tossed the stones in for free.
It’s a hell of a stone circle. If you’re in the neighborhood, do stop by.
A note about that newsletter I claimed I was going to send
To those of you who were kind enough to sign up for my alleged newsletter, I have to report that there won’t be one. It’s a complete flop. Or I am. I had an extended wrestling match with MailerLite and although I didn’t break any equipment or murder anyone, I did threaten all of the above. Basically, all I was going to send was an announcement that my next novel was out, and I’ll do that right here, in this very spot, about a week from now. So you didn’t miss anything anyway.
And to those of you who didn’t sign up, weren’t you clever?
I don’t know why I thought setting up a newsletter was a good idea anyway. It’s something that the folks who seem to know things advise writers to do. I think the idea is that if you pop up in people’s inboxes, they won’t be able to get away from you until they’ve bought your book, but we all know that’s not true. They–or you, or we–can leave any time they/you/we want.
Besides, here I am, popping up in your inbox anyway.