Bank Holiday revelers fill the police cells

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Londoners enjoy a visit to London Zoo on a bank holiday (Illustrated London News, 1871)

Since 1871 we have had a bank holiday in August, one of four such holidays enshrined in law by an act of Parliament in 1871. Up until 1834 it seems there were far more potential days off for bankers as the Bank of England observed the 33 saints’ days or other religious holidays. But Sir John Lubbock’s Bank Holidays Act (1871) effectively meant everyone got a day off on Easter Monday, Whit Monday, the first Monday in August and Boxing Day (Christmas Day was already held to be special of course). No one worked (or was supposed to work) on Sundays, but most working class folk would be expected to work on a Saturday, at least until midday.

I rather suspect not everyone thought bank holidays were a good idea. After all it encouraged the labouring class to gather in the parks of London and drink beer and become boorish and loud, especially on the summer holiday.

This concern is reflected in the newspaper coverage of the activities of the capital’s police courts in August 1879, just eight years after the act was passed. The Daily News reported as usual from the various courts but on this occasion chose to highlight the number of persons brought in and prosecuted for drunkenness on the previous Monday.

With two exceptions all the 17 cases at Bow Street were for alcohol related acts of disorder. The worst offender was Charles Cook who had assaulted a young woman in  St James’ Park. At Marylebone the ‘number and character of the night charges (38) …bore unmistakable evidence that the previous day was a Bank Holiday’. There were 28 prosecutions for drunkenness, with disorderly behaviour and abusive language thrown in. Of seven others two  were for assault, two for gambling, another two for fraud and the remaining was for ‘wilful damage’.

At Lambeth John Cannon (a 31 year-old clerk) was charged with refusing to leave the Greyhound public house in Dulwich, and there were 28 other defendants on the night charge list, mostly drunks again. Clerkenwell and Worship Street did not seem particularly affected by the holiday revelry, but generally it seems Londoners in the late 1870s liked to party.

[From Daily News, Wednesday, August 6, 1879]

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