What's A British Bank Holiday?

Posted on: 07 August 2008 by Gareth Hargreaves

How will you spend August's extra day off? Do we need a Britishness Day?

August means it's time for one of the UK's rare public holidays. While the Scots among us have the first Monday of the month off, inhabitants of England, Wales and Northern Ireland enjoy an extension to the last weekend.

What does a bank holiday mean to you? For some it's a welcome day off work. For others it's a day when everywhere is overcrowded, so best to stay at home, not get stuck in a traffic jam and avoid those beaches, beauty spots and amusements packed with bank holidaymakers. For many people it's just another day at work, whether they are manning ice-cream vans or power stations.

Bank Holidays

Notting Hill Carnival has taken place since 1965. The event was marred by clashes with police in the late 1970s, but now the colourful and loud multi-cultural parade is a favourite fixture in London's calendar.

Reading Rock Festival moved to its regular slot of the August bank holiday weekend in 1973. In 1974 clashes between revellers and police meant the last of the short-lived Free Festivals in Windsor.

1986 saw the first Superprix take place in Birmingham. There were many crashes, partly due to downpours caused by Hurricane Charley.

The Olympic Games take place in August, and always feature amazing sporting achievements and controversies too. Bank holiday weekend 2004 saw the closing ceremony of the Olympics in Athens, when Britain brought home 9 gold medals. This year Team GB will try to better this in Beijing.

Bank holidays to remember for less happy reasons include 1979, when an IRA bomb killed the Queen's cousin Lord Mountbatten on his boat in Ireland, and 2005, when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans. Last year parts of England and Wales were dealing with the aftermath of some of the worst flooding on record.

In 1994 shops opened on Sunday legally for the first time. These days you can 'shop til you drop' on any day of the year, whether it's a bank holiday or even Christmas Day at some stores.

Those who are looking forward to a day out, a trip to the seaside or simply a potter around the garden will be praying for sunshine. Since 1971, however, there has been rain on 24 out of 37 August bank holidays, while we've seen the sunshine on only 12 occasions. Whether it's a scorching heatwave or a devastating flood, the British climate is always unreliable. Will the weather affect your plans?

Bank holidays were first introduced by the Bank Holidays Act of 1871, which designated four holidays in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and five in Scotland. These included the first Monday in August.

The 1871 Act was repealed 100 years later and its provisions incorporated into the Banking and Financial Dealings Act 1971. The last Monday in August was formally made a bank holiday in place of the first Monday in August in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, following a trial period of the new arrangements from 1965.

Immigration Minister Liam Byrne proposed earlier this year that there should be a 'Britishness' Day, perhaps on the August bank holiday. Though surveys suggest that people want a national holiday, they probably do not want it on an existing day off!

Should the August bank holiday be such a day, or should the Government introduce a new national holiday on a different day?

Workers in mainland Britain enjoy only eight bank holidays a year compared to the European Union average of 10.8, so another day off would be most welcome. Is a nationwide holiday for everyone good fun? Or would you rather bank holidays were abolished and added to work holiday allowance instead, so you could choose when to take a break?

Do you think this suggestion is simply more Labour spin, or would it be good for the country to celebrate a national 'Britishness' holiday? Are the Government trying to mend what they have destroyed through unregulated immigration, and garner support in areas of the UK who have lost interest in Labour?

Is celebrating Britishness important to you? Would you participate in this on a new day off, or just enjoy the chance to go down the pub, spend time with your family or visit the allotment? Or do you see bank holidays as the perfect time to jet off to Europe for a long weekend?

How have you spent that long weekend over the years? Do you have any plans for this year? Have bank holidays changed for better or worse?

You can join the debate and share what you think of the Government's proposal, and what the bank holiday means to you, by leaving a comment below, visiting the 50connect Forum, or emailing us at editor@50connect.com.

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