A Bank Holiday is a public holiday in the United Kingdom. Although there is no legal right to time off on these days, the majority of the population not employed in essential services (e.g. utilities, fire, ambulance, police, health-workers) receive them as holidays. They are called bank holidays because they are days upon which banks are (or were) shut and therefore (traditionally) no other businesses could operate.

The US equivalent is a Federal Holiday.

It has been noted (for example in an essay published by the Fabian Society) that the number of holidays in the UK is relatively small compared to the number in many other European countries.

Table of contents
1 History of Bank Holidays
2 Current Bank Holidays
3 Scotland
4 External links

History of Bank Holidays

Prior to 1834, the Bank of England observed about thirty-three saints' days and religious festivals as holidays, but in 1834, this was drastically reduced to just four: Good Friday, 1st May, 1st November, and Christmas Day.

In 1871, the first legislation relating to bank holidays was passed when Sir John Lubbock introduced the Bank Holiday Act 1871 which specified the days as in the following table. Scotland was treated separately because of its separate traditions; for instance, New Year or Hogmanay is a more important holiday there.

Bank Holidays 1871
England, Wales, IrelandScotland
New Year's Day
Good Friday
Easter Monday
Whit MondayFirst Monday in May
First Monday in AugustFirst Monday in August
Boxing DayChristmas Day

Note that Good Friday and Christmas Day were not specified for England, Wales and Ireland because they were already recognized as common-law holidays there.

In 1903, the Bank Holiday (Ireland) Act added 17th March, Saint Patrick's Day, as a bank holiday for Ireland only.

Current Bank Holidays

It was then not until exactly a century after the 1871 Act that the Banking and Financial Dealings Act 1971 was passed; it is still in effect today. The table below details the bank holidays specified in the 1971 Act; also listed are two additional bank holidays introduced since 1971, which are deemed bank holidays by the legal device of a royal proclamation every year. This same device is also routinely used to shift bank holidays that would otherwise fall on a weekend. (This is why diaries often have to resort to the phrase 'subject to confirmation' since theoretically there might not be such a royal proclamation.) The two additional days now routinely added since 1971 are New Year's Day and the Early May Bank Holiday (except in Scotland, where they are the Spring Bank Holiday and Boxing Day).

Current Bank Holidays
1 JanuaryNew Year's Day
2 January(Scotland only)
17 MarchSt Patrick's Day (Northern Ireland only)
The Friday before Easter SundayGood Friday
The day after Easter SundayEaster Monday (not Scotland)
First Monday in MayEarly May Bank Holiday
Last Monday in MaySpring Bank Holiday
12 JulyBattle of the Boyne - Orangemen's Day (Northern Ireland only)
First Monday in AugustSummer Bank Holiday (Scotland only)
Last Monday in AugustSummer Bank Holiday (not Scotland)
25 DecemberChristmas Day
26 December or 27 December(1)Boxing Day

  1. Strictly, Boxing Day is the first weekday after Christmas, so it cannot fall on a Sunday. If Christmas Day is a Saturday, then Boxing Day is the following Monday, although in practice, this nicety is often ignored.


A number of pecularities apply to bank holidays in Scotland. Firstly, it is noteworthy (and a considerable surprise to many) that Easter Monday is not a bank holiday there. Also, although they share the same name, the Summer Bank Holiday falls on the first Monday of August in Scotland and the last elsewhere in the UK.

More importantly, bank holidays have never assumed the same importance in Scotland. Whereas they have effectively become public holidays elsewhere in the UK, in Scotland there remains a tradition of public holidays based on local tradition and determined by local authorities. To complicate matters further, in 1996, Scottish banks made the business decision to harmonize their own holidays with the rest of the UK. Thus bank holidays in Scotland are neither public holidays nor the days on which banks are closed!

External links