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  • Changing the date

    In 1752, Great Britain changed its calendar from the Julian to the Gregorian which had been used in Catholic countries in Europe since 1582. The consequences were far-reaching.

    The newspapers, then in their infancy, dutifully reported the impending change. On 4 April 1752 the Newcastle Courant in its regular rundown of royal activities reported that ‘His Majesty went this Day to the House of Peers, and, being seated on the Throne with the usual Solemnity, gave the Royal Assent to …’ and announced the decision in two lines: ‘An Act to amend the Act for regulating the Commencement of the Year, and correcting the Calendar now in Use’. The small percentage of the population who could read and had access to a newspaper would probably have been none the wiser.

    Under the Julian calendar the year began on 25 March – Lady Day. Leases generally commenced on Lady Day, labour was hired, and rents were due. At a stroke 25 March was to be just another day and the New Year would begin on 1 January.

    calendarBut there was another enormous effect. The Julian calendar was out of step with the Gregorian calendar and in order to bring the two into line, eleven days had to be removed from the year 1752. When the sun set on 2nd September, it rose the following morning on the 14th. People complained that eleven days had been taken from their lives, many birthdays and anniversaries were lost, and chaotic confusion ensued. Dates of markets and fairs etched in people’s memories for generations changed at a stroke.

    01368The Derby Mercury did its best to explain the new calendar to its readers on 15 September: ‘The Supputation of the Year began on the first Day of January last, and for the future the first Day of that Month will be stiled the first Day of every year in all Accounts whasoever, which Supputation or Reckoning never took Place before this year in any Courts of Law until the 25th Day of March’. Clear so far? Easter and associated moveable feasts were to be reckoned according to new tables in the Act of Parliament. Livestock markets and hiring fairs fixed to certain days of the month were to be kept to the same day which would of course be eleven days later, so ‘Sturbitch Fair’ which used to be on 8 September would in future be held on the 19th. The expiration of leases, apprenticeships and other contracts covering the period would similarly occur eleven days later.

    Imagine the impact of such a change today.

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