How will you spend the forthcoming Bank Holiday? Visiting a local beauty spot or heritage site? or just relaxing at home, possibly pondering how you will spend the double bank holiday coming up in June that marks the 70 year reign of Queen Elizabeth.
Well, however you spend the day, spare a thought for Sir John Lubbock, a distinguished archaeologist, politician, banker and philanthropist who achieved not one, but two significant cultural advancements.
Sir John believed in education for all and was convinced that if people had access to knowledge, democracy would ultimately prevail. He famously said “we may sit in our library and yet be in all quarters of the earth”.
He also believed in preserving heritage for the nation and created the first Scheduled List which offered legal protection for the most historic manmade structures in the UK. That list has now grown from an initial 68 in 1882 to over 20,000 today. It ranges from pre-historic sites such as Stonehenge to structures such as the Skerne Bridge in Darlington that carried the first passenger railway and includes thousands of buildings, castles, and gardens.
It was Sir John’s other great achievement that meant people had a chance to get out and enjoy such heritage – for he was the man who invented the Bank Holiday.
Early bank notes included a contract that compelled the banks to pay the bearer on demand a sum of money – with the only exception being Sundays, and the recognised public holidays of Good Friday and Christmas Day.
Under Sir John’s Bank Holidays Act of 1871 other dates were given the same status as Christmas Day and once bank workers gained this additional time off other employers followed suit.
The media hailed Sir John for his act and so grateful were the workers of Britain that the first August Bank holiday was known initially as Lubbock’s Day. The legislation also allowed bank holidays to be moved in the calendar and additional ones to be added – hence the four day weekend we can look forward to in June.
Despite this, the UK still lags well behind the rest of the world when it comes to public holidays. In fact England’s eight days a year places us bottom of the world league alongside Mexico. Scotland comes next lowest on nine and Ireland next with ten. It’s all a far cry from 26 public holidays enjoyed in Taiwan, the 30 in Iran and top of the league Myanmar with 32.
Even the notoriously workaholic US has 18 public holidays.
But let’s not allow that to detract from what will hopefully be a series of wonderful, warm bank holidays. A chance to visit some of the country’s wonderful attractions or relax at home with something delicious to eat.
We may not have the number of public holidays enjoyed in other countries but at least the SK range allows us to sample food from around the world. As Sir John might say: “We can sit at our table and yet taste all quarters of the earth”