The Great British Summer Holiday

by Richard Parker

The Great British summer is a fickle affair – with rain sure to pour as soon as the BBQ is opened, and beaches packed with sun-worshippers who are convinced that it’s impossible to burn in the UK. But when did the tradition of long weekends on the beach and other annual adventures begin?

Wakes Week

From the middle ages, Brits have been recognizing Christian festivals resulting in universal time off work, however before the Victorian era these holidays – or ‘holy-days’ – were mostly unpaid. Most holy-days celebrating parish saints fell in the summer months, meaning workers would take time off for wakes to recognise their saint and perform religious celebrations at their local church.

When the industrial revolution came to pass, many factory workers still continued the practice of celebrating their saints on the traditional holidays, and the factory owners began to take the opportunity to close down production and, in particular for cotton factories, clean the machinery.

In historic industrial towns such as those throughout Lancashire, the practice of celebrating wakes weeks continues, with some schools even adjusting their term times to accommodate this tradition.

The Paid Leave Revolution

Until the 1930s, the act of going on a ‘Grand Tour’ through Europe or beyond – or even spending a week at a holiday resort in the UK – was a luxury reserved for the upper classes. Without obligatory paid leave, many ordinary working class people did not earn enough to sustain themselves for a week – or even less – without a consistent wage.

In 1938, the Holidays with Pay Act was passed following a great deal of canvassing from trade unions and the Labour Party. This allowed millions of Brits to take advantage of the great British summer and enjoy an extended trip to the sea-side, fueling the industry that was in its infancy at the time, but has since grown to be an unwavering fixture of seaside towns throughout the UK: the budget package holiday, with catering, accommodation and entertainment for an all-inclusive price.

Some industries, in particular the cotton industry based in Lancashire, faced a further uphill battle as textile factory owners refused to follow the new guidelines outlined with the act, arguing that the cost was too much to bear at a time of decline for the industry. Workers marched in August 1938 to spur negotiations for the policy to take effect within their factories in the following year.

While British holiday-making was no longer a priority between September 1939 – September 1945 throughout the course of WW2, after the climax of the war the country began its recovery, including the development of a fairer workforce.

The Resurgence Of The Staycation

So – after a year of barely leaving our homes – let alone the country – it is unsurprising that the number of Brits choosing to explore our own island has increased significantly since travel is back on the cards – in fact more than 80% of people are planning a staycation this year, that’s 4 in 5 of us.

If you’re planning on exploring a new part of the UK, make sure you remember to pack your summer holiday essentials: face masks and hand sanitiser, a picnic blanket, games for the rainy days – and most importantly a summer hat and sunscreen for those glorious sunny days.