Bank holidays 2018: Everything you need to know, from dates to how to maximise your annual leave

Telegraph Reporters
For many the August bank holiday weekend is the last of summer and the ideal time to take a trip to the beach - Christopher Pledger

The final Monday of August offers one last chance to soak-up the sun – or rain – over a long weekend, with a Met Office forecast predicting warm dry weather for many in the South and rainfall in the North.

Three days of garden parties, outdoor escapes and seaside frolics can be had, on what many consider to be the last weekend of summer.   

Here is our guide to British bank holidays, from when they are to where they came from. Plus, if memories of holidays and the heatwave are beginning to fade and you wish you could have spent more time in the sun this summer, we have a handy guide on how to get 24 days off in a row using only 14 days of annual leave.

Bank holidays explained

Public holidays, or 'bank holidays', were first established  in the UK by The Bank Holidays Act of 1871. A Victorian invention that acknowledged a handful of historical dates that carried religious, cultural and agricultural importance. 

Perhaps remembering Canterbury's riots during the 1647 ban on Christmas, parliamentarians assured the public that December 25th would continue to be a day of rest.  It was felt unnecessary to include it in the Act. 

The 1871 Act designated four bank holidays in England, Wales and Ireland and five in Scotland. It was then repealed in 1971 and superseded by the Banking and Financial Dealings Act 1971, which remains in force.

Contemporary bank holidays see the closure of banks, government offices and most businesses. Although an increasing number of smaller shops and larger retail businesses remain open.

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There are now six permanent bank holidays and two public holidays every year in the UK. 

Public holidays in Britain comprise bank holidays declared by statute (as listed in the Banking and Financial Dealings Act 1971, Schedule 1), by royal proclamation, and by common law/customary holidays.

Surprisingly, Good Friday and Christmas Day are not official bank holidays in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Instead, these are known as public holidays.

Royal proclamation is also used to move holidays that would otherwise fall on a weekend or that are moved for special occasions, or to create additional one-off holidays (such as for the Diamond Jubilee celebrations in 2012).

When a bank holiday happens to fall on a Sunday, the following Monday becomes the day when the holiday is observed. This is known as substitute day or 'bank holiday in lieu'.

If the Monday is also a bank holiday, the substitute day moves to the following weekday. UK public holidays always move forward in the calendar, never backwards.

The August bank holiday always falls on the last Monday of August in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and on the first Monday of August in Scotland.

2018 Bank holiday and public holiday dates

  • New Year's Day: Monday, January 1
  • Good Friday: Friday, March 30
  • Easter Monday: Monday, April 2
  • Early May bank holiday: Monday, May 7
  • Spring bank holiday: Monday, May 28
  • Summer bank holiday: Monday, August 27
  • Christmas Day: Tuesday, December 25
  • Boxing Day: Wednesday, December 26

Notting Hill Carnival and the August bank holiday weekend 

After a long summer of cheers, tears and a so-called shortage of beers, the 2018 August bank holiday is your chance to unwind and have fun before Autumn sets-in. 

For decades, the August holiday has seen families head to the best of the British seaside whilst daylight hours remain long and the skies remain bright blue. 

Almost named 'Lubbock's Day' after the Liberal MP for Maidstone, Kent, who had tabled the Bank Holidays Act of 1871, the August holiday was later moved from the first Monday of the month to the last in 1965. 

Costumed revellers perform in the Notting Hill Carnival in London, Monday, Aug. 28, 2017.  Credit: AP Photo/Time Ireland

On that weekend, the bright extravaganza that is Notting Hill Carnival has filled the streets of west London since 1966. Now rivaled only by Rio de Janeiro's carnival in size, the celebration of the capital's Carribbean heritage sees samba bands, calypso and a feast of entertainment. 

Sunday is the quieter day of the carnival and best suited to families. Emslie Horniman’s Pleasance Park will host a steel band music competition on the evening of Sunday 26th, before the traditional opening ceremony known as Jouvert from 6am on Monday 27th.

Celebrations on Monday extend across Notting Hill, Ladbroke Grove and Wesbourne Park, with the main parade route moving along Great Western Road, Chepstow Road, Westbourne Grove and Ladbroke Grove.

May Day traditions

May Day is celebrated on May 1. This is perhaps the most ancient public holiday in existence, with roots in the Roman celebrations of flora and the goddess of flowers. It is a stopping point between winter and summer, marking May as the month of fertility and renewal. 

Typical May Day activities include Morris dancing and may pole dances on idyllic village greens, pub gardens, and high streets. 

The Green Man Spring Festival in Bovey Tracey, UK Credit: James D.Morgan/Getty Images

Many modern-day festivities continue to embrace some aspects of May Day's folkloric roots. These include The Clun Green Man Festival, Shropshire, and Hasting's Jack-in-the-Green Festival. Both feature performances and parades filled with leafy costumes and green decoration.

When May Day became a public holiday in 1971, the date was also associated with International Workers' Rights day, despite its pagan roots. In reality, this holiday harks back to a time when the UK was an agricultural society.  

In 2011, the UK government briefly considered scrapping the May bank holiday, in replacement for a 'UK Day' in October. However the May Day holiday remains. 

Spring bank holiday

The second bank holiday to fall in May is also known as Whit Monday, which comes the day after Whitsun (Whit Sunday). It originally fell on the seventh Monday after Easter, as part of the Christian Pentecost festival. However the movable feast was given a fixed date in 1971: the last Monday of May. 

Whitsun is a contraction of 'White Sunday'. Many believe the name is linked to the baptisms traditionally performed during the Pentecost, when participants wear white.

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How can you maximise your annual leave next year?

Our – on average – 26 days of paid holiday per year have us Britons feeling more relaxed than employees in the USA (15 days) and Japan (20 days).

But we are almost a week worse off than our counterparts in France, Spain and Germany (30 days) when it comes to fleeing the office.

All the more reason, then, to make the most of your bank holidays. This year offered an easy way to get 24 glorious, work-free days off in a row using just 14 days of your precious holiday allowance.

However, there's a small caveat: the holiday hack only works if your job doesn't require you to work at weekends and you also get all your bank holidays off. Plus, we're now at the tail-end of the your allotted time to use the hack; if you haven't been lucky enough to use it this year, make a note of it for 2019.

Here’s the full breakdown:

May 2018 Holiday calendar

A similar calendar quirk helped workers get 18 days off using just nine days of annual leave last year.

Alternatively, you could book eight days holiday to get 16 days off in a row:

March-April 2018 Holiday calendar

Other key dates of 2018

As well as the days we get off from work, here are other key dates of 2018 to keep in mind:

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School term dates 2018

Autumn term 2018

  • School starts: Monday, September 3
  • Half term break: Monday, October 22 to Friday, October 26
  • Last day of term: Friday, December 21