Bank holidays are public holidays in the United Kingdom and take place at various times throughout the year. They always take place during the working week and, as the name suggests, were originally so called because it was a time when the Bank of England would close.
The phrase these days is often used to refer to any public holiday in the country, even if they were not originally referred to as bank holidays, such as Christmas Day. Many workplaces and businesses close to give their staff the day off and traditionally shops and other public places also closed although these days many shops and restaurants choose to stay open with staff often paid overtime for working on a public holiday.
The number of bank holidays varies slightly in different parts of the UK, with England and Wales usually enjoying eight permanent bank holidays, while there are nine in Scotland and ten in Northern Ireland. Everywhere in the UK also got an extra bank holiday in 2012 to mark the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee on June 5.
There was a time when more than 30 saints days and religious occasions with marked with the closure of the Bank of England, but in 1834 the bank decided to reduce this significantly to just four specified dates, which were Christmas Day, Good Friday, May Day and All Saints Day on November 1.
The tradition of bank holidays was cemented in law in 1871 with the introduction of the Bank Holidays Act, which laid out four bank holidays in the UK, varying slightly from those first observed in 1834 and with slight differences between Scotland and the rest of the UK to reflect the different traditions. Christmas Day and Good Friday were already accepted as common law holidays, while in Ireland St Patrick’s Day was added as an additional bank holiday in 1903.
Further changes to holiday dates took place over the next century, with a new act in 1971, the Banking and Financial Dealings Act, specifying the majority of dates which are still observed today as bank holidays. Additional May holidays were added a few years later, while it was not until 2007 that St Andrew’s Day was declared a bank holiday in Scotland.