The long history of the bank holiday

In a typical year, British workers receive eight public bank holidays. But what are they for? And where did they come from?

Where do bank holidays come from?

Bank holidays trace back to, as the name suggests, banks. The Bank of England and the Exchequer would close banks across the country for a wide range of festivals, royal events, and saint’s days. About forty in a year!

Then after the Industrial Revolution, factories also began closing on bank holidays to give everyone time off. However, this was incredibly localised so often meant factories in different parts of the country closing at different times.

In 1871, Sir John Lubbock drafted the Bank Holiday Bill creating the first official national bank holidays. For a while, they were called St Lubbock’s Days as a tribute to him for creating them.

When do we get bank holidays?

Bank holidays vary slightly depending on what country in the United Kingdom you live in. England and Wales always have the same bank holidays, whereas Scotland and Northern Ireland receive some additional days for local celebrations such as St Andrews Day or the Battle of the Boyne.

In a typical year, there are eight bank holidays in England and Wales, nine in Scotland, and ten in Northern Ireland.

Why did we get an extra day off in June this year?

Elizabeth II was coronated seventy years ago in February, however as that also coincided with the death of her father King George VI she did not wish to celebrate then. Therefore, an additional bank holiday for the Jubilee was granted in June, similar to previous Jubilee’s to give greater chance for good weather.

Does my work have to give me a bank holiday off?

There is unfortunately no legal provision to ensure that workers can receive bank holidays off, although it is good practice to do so. Many workers have the right to bank holidays off (or lieu time is working is required) written into their contract. If it is not, then your employer can require you to work.

What if my day off falls on a bank holiday?

If you do not work full time and one of your non-working days falls on a bank holiday, you can ask your employer to take it back on another day. However, they are not required to accept this. Similarly, you can ask your employer to work on bank holidays and then take it back on another day, but again they are not required to accept this.

You can find out more about your right to time off here.

If you are a member of Community and need help or advice, please contact us at or on 0800 389 6332.

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