History Inc Newsletter
Editor Martin R. Jervis
As History Inc, History-Plus and ZTP continue to expand, as we are aiming to fill a gap in adult education history in Manchester and beyond.
Welcome to our monthly History Inc Newsletter, which will bring you the latest news about courses, day schools and Saturday sessions. This newsletter will not only to act as a 'notice board', but also provide short historical articles, together with a brief reading list, to enhance your learning experience. If you wish to make comment or observation, we will be only too happy to publish such in this newsletter. We welcome your active participation, as part of our goal of maintaining high professional standards in our teaching.
This autumn, History Inc and History-Plus will focus on the early Georgian period. This month I look at one of the most consequential, but now forgotten, parliamentary reforms of the 18th century - the Calendar (New Style) Act 1750, which became law on 2nd September 1752, provoking immediate public outrage.
'GIVE US OUR MISSING ELEVEN DAYS!'
Martin R. Jervis
On 2nd September 1752, the adoption of the Gregorian calendar in Britain provoked immediate outrage. Nonetheless, this brought Britain into line with the rest of western Europe, thereby greatly enhancing foreign trade, both at home and throughout the British empire. But why precisely was this Catholic calendar adopted by a firmly anti-papist Parliament?
Britain had continued to use the old Julian calendar, despite its inaccuracy, simply became the Gregorian calendar was a 'recent' invention adopted by Catholic Europe after 1582. Initially, wherever it was adopted, it was seen by the Protestant world as a device to reinforce authority of the Papacy, However, the 'Age of Reason' gradually changed public opinion and most of Protestant Europe had adopted the new calendar by 1714. Only Britain and its expanding empire held out.
By the late 1740s, leading English Enlightenment thinkers favoured adoption of the new calendar, Refusal to adopt the Gregorian calendar meant Britain lagged behind the rest of western Europe by eleven days. The gap was gradually widening, creating increased difficulties in foreign trade, international banking and commerce. Thus, despite traditonal anti-papism, the British establishment converted to adoption of the new calendar, simply because it could not afford to do otherwise, in the rapidly changing commercial world.
In 1750, George Parker, 2nd Earl of Macclesfield, astronomer and member of the the Royal Society, used his influence to push a calendar reform bill through the Lords, He was supported in this by James Bradley, the Astronomer Royal, who also had the ear of the King. The bill successfully passed through the Commons and was given Royal Assent in May 1752, becoming law on 2nd September.
Under the new law, adoption of the Gregorian calendar meant that eleven days were excised – Wednesday, 2nd September was immediately followed by Thursday, 14th September. Further, New Year's Day was shifted from its traditonal date of 25th March (Old Calendar), to 1st January (New Calendar). However, the City of London refused to accept the new date, and consequently, the financial year continued to end on 25th March (Old Calendar) – although, under the new calendar, its date now fell on 6th April.
Additionally, the dates of payment of wages, rents and interest all moved forward eleven days, initially disrupting the business world. This also applied to military discharge and penal release dates, thereby causing even more disruption. Parliament became so alarmed that they published and distributed nationally a pamphlet entitled The New Style, The True Style, in an attempt to make order out of chaos.
Public reaction was immediate and widespread, possibly resulting in riots in Bristol and other urban areas. Some historians dispute this actually happened, although the chant, 'Give Us Back Our Eleven Days!' was recorded at in least one by-election of 1752. It should be noted that rural communities continued to use the old calendar and to celebrate Christmas on 25th December, in actuality, according to the new calendar - 5th January (known as 'Old Christmas').
Confusion spread throughout the British empire, as the colonies were gradually forced to adopt the new calendar. Resentment was particularly intense in New England, adding to the list of grievances already surfacing in the American colonies ….
The best available historical overviews of the Georgian era are:
O'Gorman, F. The Long Eighteenth Century: British Politcal and Social History 1688-1832 (London, 1997)
Porter, R. English Society in the Eighteenth Century Rev. Ed. (London, 1990)
(There is a second edition O'Gorman's work, published in 2016, but is expensive - the first edition (1997) is cheaper)
OTHER TITLES OF INTEREST
Colley, L. Britons: Forging the Nation 1707-1837 (London, 2009)
Langford, P. Eighteenth Century Britain: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford, 2005)
Picard, L. Dr. Johnson's London: Everyday Life in London 1740-1770 (London, 2000)
Uglow, J. The Lunar Men: The Friends who Made the Future 1730-1810 (London, 2003)