Exhibit of the Week: Bank Holiday advertisements, Scarborough Collections

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We’ve just 
enjoyed the August bank holiday and Scarborough is no stranger to welcoming crowds of holidaymakers to its shores aiming to make the most of a, hopefully, sunny day off work. We have a gentleman called Sir John Lubbock (1834-1913), Liberal politician, banker and intellectual, to thank for the August Bank Holiday as it was he who introduced the Bank Holidays Act of 1871.

This Act deemed that, together with three other newly instated holidays, the first Monday in August would be a Bank Holiday in England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland. According to the Act, on a ‘bank holiday’ no-one was obliged to make a payment, conduct business or undertake any activity they would not do on Christmas Day or Good Friday, which had been recognised as holidays for hundreds of years. The public was so grateful for the addition of these Bank Holidays that for a time they were known as St Lubbock’s 

Sir John Lubbock has an interesting history of his own. He was not only concerned with bank holidays but a myriad of other topics, including archaeology, ethnography and biology.

He introduced the UK’s first law to protect Britain’s archaeological and architectural heritage, the Ancient Monuments Act of 1882, the principles of which he had exercised in 1871 when he saved the Neolithic stone circle at Avebury from destruction by buying part of the estate on which it is located. Lubbock also devised the terms Palaeolithic and Neolithic or Old and New Stone Age for the archaeological world; Palaeo meaning Old, Neo meaning New and lithic meaning stone.

During his youth, he became a firm friend of Charles Darwin who moved to Lubbock’s home village of Downe in Kent in 1842. They enjoyed a strong bond and the friendship led to Lubbock’s appetite for the scientific, including evolutionary theory. In his 1865 book, Prehistoric Times, Lubbock employed a Darwinian-style theory to explain how humans and human nature may have evolved through the process of natural selection. This book is arguably one of the most significant archaeological textbooks of the 19th century.

One hundred years after Lubbock’s Bank Holidays Act was passed the Banking and Financial Dealings Act 1971 came into operation, which changed the date of the August Bank Holiday to the final Monday of the month and is still used to regulate bank holidays in the UK today. This followed an experimental period from 1965 where the August Bank Holiday weekend was moved to the end of the month to ‘extend British holidays over a longer summer period’ (The Times Digital Archive, 5 March 1964). The weekend of August’s final Saturday was chosen, which meant August Bank Holiday 1968 and 1969 fell in September.

The experiment caused great confusion and, almost certainly, great consternation among diary and calendar publishing firms who, despite the aforementioned rule, didn’t find out the precise dates for bank holidays 
until they were announced and set by Parliament each year.

This week’s objects are advertisements for entertainments on offer at the Scarborough Spa over August Bank Holiday 1876 and 1884. The first is a leaflet advertising a variety show at the Spa Saloon with the star attraction being Mr WJ Bullock’s Royal Marionettes, ‘pronounced by the London and American Press to be, without doubt, the Grandest Puppet Show in the world’.

The shows were scheduled to run from Bank Holiday Monday 7 August for six days and the leaflet consists of reviews from both the British and American press on the boundless wonders of the show. Who could fail to be impressed and head to the Spa or Mr Theakston’s Library to buy their tickets and reserve their seats; three shillings for the best seats in the house?

The second item featured this week is a flyer promoting another six nights of shows, this time comedies, to be held at the Spa Theatre. The final listing at the bottom of the flyer is the Great Bank Holiday Gala on Monday 4 August 1884 but sadly no further details are given.

Only a few years after the introduction of the August Bank Holiday in 1871, Scarborough Spa, and no doubt the rest of the resort, was capitalising on the extra holiday given to workers by ensuring the town had plenty of attractions to entice visitors. After all, Scarborough can lay claim to the accolade of being the oldest seaside resort in Britain, so who wouldn’t want to spend their August Bank Holiday here?

The Spa entertainments advertisements are part of the Scarborough Collections, now in the care of Scarborough Museums Trust.

For further information, please contact Collections Manager Jennifer Dunne on Jennifer.dunne@smtrust.uk.com or 01723 384510.