It is sometimes hard to imagine, but until the mid 19th century the idea of a day off purely for recreational purposes was almost unheard of. Before that, holidays were for religious observance and pleasure wasn’t really on the agenda. You went to church and then stayed at home, supposedly praying.
Up until 1833 the Bank of England had observed 33 saints days and other religious holidays, but in a “modern” business context that was unsustainable, so they reduced the list down to just four: 1st May, 1st November (All Saints Day), Good Friday and Christmas Day. The berating of Bob Cratchitt by Ebenezer Scrooge for wanting Christmas Day off, in Charles Dickens' “A Christmas Carol”, is a satire on this change, with many people opposing the reduction in the observance of the number of religious holidays.
The Bank Holidays Act introduced 4 new dates into the English calendar: Easter Monday, Whit Monday, The first Monday in August and 26th December (St Stephen’s Day, better known in UK as Boxing Day). The four holidays introduced by the Bank of England were revoked. In Scotland they had slight differences: May Day was retained, as was Good Friday and Christmas Day was introduced as a holiday, which it hadn’t been previously.
Changes have since been made, with dates added or amended. The biggest changes were in 1978, which made New Year’s Day a holiday in England (it had been for some time in Scotland) and the addition of 2nd January in Scotland by way of compensation. St Patrick’s Day and 12th July are holidays in Northern Ireland, while St David’s Day (1st March) and St Andrew’s Day (30th November) are holidays in Wales and Scotland respectively. Interestingly, St George’s Day isn’t a holiday in England, which gets a few people riled up on social media when the saint’s day comes around in April.
Although piers had been around for a long time as a way to get out to boats at low tide, the idea of using them as a resource for amusement had only been around since 1813/14 (Ryde, isle of Wight) but their numbers expanded rapidly once the new market had been identified.
Of course, the wealthy and middle classes had been taking holidays for a long time; they could afford to, but it was this explosion of Bank Holiday travel by the working classes that was the real game changer. Seaside towns within easy reach of major cities boomed as a consequence: Blackpool, Brighton (already an established resort for the wealthy, thanks to the Royal Pavillion), Southend on Sea, Scarborough, Skegness, Weston Super Mare et al.
It was at the end of the 19th century that employers discovered that offering paid holidays would entice skilled workers to join the company, and would also retain the loyalties of existing staff. It was mainly in white collar work, but soon spread to factories. Giving a week’s holiday with pay was a winner with staff as well, of course. However, paid holidays didn’t become a legal right until the Holiday Pay Act 1933 and that was only at the end of a 20 year campaign by Trades Unions. Employees were entitled to one week of paid vacation time, unless the regulations for a specific industry stated otherwise. The act led to the opening of totally new, holiday focused, resorts in the UK, the best known being Butlins holiday camps.
Canny employers, however, knew that by giving more paid leave they could recruit better employees, which gave rise to the idea of a fortnight’s annual holiday by the 1960s. Legally, however, the entitlement remained at just one week.
We owe our current 28 days of paid holiday to the EU. The 1938 Act was repealed when EU working time regulations were introduced in 2004. This right was later extended, pro-rata, to part time employees. Unscrupulous employers counted public holidays in those 28 days, but you can’t win them all. It goes without saying that when we finally leave the EU, this is one of the bits of “red tape” some employers will hope is repealed. You have been warned.
Other people go on activity holidays while some use the time to enrich their minds by visiting historical sites, art galleries and museums, though it has to be admitted that these are less popular with children than with adults.
For some the choice of accommodation is a tent or a caravan, for others it is a 5 star hotel. For others still it’s a ship on the high seas. Even the humble B&B is still quite popular, though I suspect you’ll have to offer a bit more than hot and cold running water and a TV lounge to attract customers back. Whatever it is, if it is a true holiday, it won’t be spent in your own home.
My wife and I like trying new destinations each year. This year Italy, last year Rhodes, the year before Croatia, before that exploring ancient Egypt. We’ve been to the USA, Australia, Malaysia and Thailand. All have their strengths and all had their weaknesses but, mainly, they were all different. You may think that Crete and Rhodes, both being Greek Islands, are very similar but they aren’t.
So this year, if you are trying something new for your holiday, why not also try reading something new. Perhaps read a book by an author that you’ve never heard of before, or that you only know from their blogs. I know it is immodest of me, but you might just find a few good ones on this website if you click on the "books" tab at the top of this page. You’ll never find out if they’re any good unless you buy them and read them. Go on, surprise yourself. You’ll spend more on cocktail in Marbella than you will on one of my books and the book will last much longer, so they’ve got to be worth a punt.
For those of you who have stuck with me so far, here is your chance to win a little bit of holiday reading, a copy of my latest book “The Magi”.
All you have to do is guess where I’m going on holiday this year. There is already a clue in this blog, all you have to do is narrow it down to the final destination. You don’t have to be precise, just name a place within 50 miles of our holiday destination and the first correct e-mail wins the book. The address to use is email@example.com. The first person to give a correct answer I’ll e-mail with a link to smashwords.com and a voucher code you can use to redeem your prize (not applicable to family – you can buy a copy!).