Tuesday, August 22, 2017

August Bank Holiday - a fun time for Brits...or not?

Mavis MacDonald here, one of the women who run the WISE Enquiries Agency. I’ve just got back to our office in the heart of Wales after a long weekend in my old home town of Dumfries in Scotland. I took the chance to spend the August Bank Holiday with my boys, and their families. 

Barry Island beach, Stop Fortnight, 1930s
In Scotland we have our Bank Holiday on the first Monday in August , you see. Here in Wales – and in England and Northern Ireland too – they have theirs on the last Monday in August. All a bit odd, I know, but no one ever said Britain is a place with traditions you can guess, or logically predict. 

Maybe you’re not familiar with the idea of a Bank Holiday? I know some people aren’t. Back in 1871 the Banking and Financial Dealings Act decreed all banks would close on certain days of the year. 

Typical caravan park
Back then, all four of the Home Nations had their August Bank Holiday on the same day – the first Monday in August. Then, in the 1960s, they started to fiddle about with it. Typical. A bit of a nightmare if you had kids in school, I should think. I hadn’t had my boys by then. Finally, they settled on the new dates back in 1971. In Scotland we stuck with the first Monday in August, and the rest of them shifted to the last Monday. Mebbe because it gets colder in Scotland earlier in the year than it does here, down south? I don’t really know.

Carol – she’s the one of the four of us who’s Welsh – was telling me that the first Monday in August worked quite well here in Wales, because all the coal mines would shut down for two weeks, those being the last week in July and the first in August. Apparently it was the only way for the mine owners, then managers, to grapple with the whole concept of holidays; you can’t be down on numbers of workers for weeks and weeks on end, you see, when you run a mine. So they’d just shut down the entire operation for two weeks and you had to take your time off then, like it or not…whatever the weather! They called it “Stop Fortnight”, and she was telling me that many other businesses started doing the same thing, because so many families were connected with mining in some way. Then the whole extended family would go off on day trips, or - if they could afford it - they might go to a caravan camp for one of the two weeks, or even to somewhere like Butlins'.

Apparently those two weeks were pretty chaotic in Wales, as they were in many other parts of the UK, with the beaches inundated by folks who hardly saw daylight, let alone sunshine, from one August Bank Holiday to the next. And, whether it was Stop Fortnight, or just a Bank Holiday, everyone wanted to get to where they wanted to be as fast as possible...not wanting to waste a minute of their leisure time. 

It was an extremely popular time to get married, too, with the chance of a long “honeymoon”, which usually just meant time off work, rather than the sort of exotic jaunt most people seem to expect these days. My late husband and I married over the August Bank Holiday, like many others, just because we could save a day’s holiday time because of the long weekend. He managed to get leave from the army so we could do it then. How I miss him. Ah well...

Carol was saying that her mother and father – even though they grew up in a rural area – still won’t venture off their farm on an August Bank Holiday weekend, because they still have nightmares about how horrifically busy it used to be everywhere. I’ve seen some photos of Wales during Stop Fortnight, and I can see what they mean. Nowadays the roads around here are jam-packed with caravans coming and going for all of August. It's nice to be back in the peace and quite of the Dower House, with Althea, I must say. 

Bank Holiday nightmares...or just a typical August weekend!
Och, sure enough it was busy when I was back home just now, but the odd thing is the banks don’t close in my neck of the woods for our Bank Holiday – no, they close on the last Monday of the month, even though most other businesses in Scotland have the first Monday off. Now work that one out if you can! One of the things I love about we Brits is that our entire way of life is full of such eccentric things. And we don’t usually even notice most of them. It’s not until we have to explain things we see as perfectly normal to those who are unfamiliar with them that it dawns on us just how odd our normality must seem to others.

Like this croquet tournament they’ve got coming up at Chellingworth Hall later this month. Now that’s an oddity, if you like. Not that I’ve ever had any time for croquet myself, but it’s a big deal around here. A team of people who work at the Hall, called The Chellingworth Champs, will play against a team from the village, called The Anwen Allcomers. Sounds like a bit of a grudge match, if you ask me. Here’s hoping nothing untoward happens to spoil the whole affair. 

Cathy Ace is the Bony Blithe Award-winning author of The Cait Morgan Mysteries and The WISE Enquiries Agency Mysteries (#4, The Case of the Unsuitable Suitor will be released in hardcover in the UK in September 2017 and in the USA & Canada on January 1st 2018).  You can find out more about Cathy, her work and her characters at her website, where you can also sign up for her newsletter with news, updates and special offers: http://cathyace.com/



  1. Love it. I remember the trades fortnight fondly as all seven of us packed onto the beach with a flask of tea for mum and dad and sandwiches with sand in them. The good old days!

  2. I have a British friend who said that he got into banking because it had the most holidays -- but I didn't realize how complicated they could be! My Grandmother's Grandparents came to the U.S. from Wales, and they were coal miners, so I'm sure that they enjoyed the Stop Fortnight while they lived there. Thanks for explaining things for us, Mavis!

  3. Yes, it really is complicated - and not at all logical! Welsh coal miners would certainly have been familiar with Stop Fortnight...and would have counted the shifts below ground until it came along :-) My grandfather certainly did.