Good Friday

Along with Christmas Day, a common- law holiday kept "by habit and custom" (as opposed to a statutory public holiday).

Easter Monday

A statutory public holiday brought in, along with Whit Monday, August Bank Holiday and Boxing Day, by Sir John Lubbock's Bank Holidays Act of 1871 (replaced by the Banking and Financial Dealings Act in 1971). Banks and businesses are not compelled to close - what the legislation does is postpone the dates when bills of exchange are due for payment. In the Fifties and Sixties, Easter Monday became the day on which mods and rockers would converge upon seaside towns such as Scarborough, Brighton and Margate to beat the living daylights out of each other.

New Year's Day

A holiday set by royal proclamation annually. Scotland also takes 2 January off.

St Patrick's Day (17 March)

Has been a public holiday in Northern Ireland since last year. Before that, celebrations had only been recognised in the Irish Republic, since the passing of the Bank Holiday Act (Ireland) in 1903. Northern Ireland also takes 12 July as a public holiday, commemorating the Battle of the Boyne in 1690.

May Day (first Monday in May)

Established by James Callaghan's Labour government in the Seventies. Talk of its abolition in 1993 caused Morris dancers to protest outside the House of Commons. Last year it was moved to 8 May for one year in celebration of the 50th anniversary of VE Day.

The idea of a holiday to commemorate the rights of workers was dreamt up by the International Socialist Congress in 1889. Most of the rest of Europe continues to take 1 May as a holiday, whatever day of the week it falls on.

The institution of dancing round the maypole on May Day proper was revived by village parsons and schoolmistresses in Victorian England; before that it had been a pagan fertility festival, banned by Parliament in 1644 after Puritans complained that barely one in three of the virgins who went into the woods to celebrate returned intact.

Plans to celebrate 21 October as Trafalgar Day seem to have foundered, out of respect for EU harmony.

Spring Bank Holiday (last Monday in May)

Originally Whit Monday (whose date depended on Whitsunday, the seventh Sunday after Easter). Given its present status in the Sixties.

Summer Bank Holiday (last Monday in August)

Originally the August Bank Holiday, on the first Monday of the month. Changed to the last Monday in the Sixties, except in Scotland. Date of the Notting Hill Carnival.