Chairman's Report August 2001
By Bob Solly
As we approach the longest day of the year and following a short break to Sweden, I was left puzzling over the variation in different European countries in establishing exactly which day between June 19th and June 24th should be ‘the longest day’.
This is not the first time that there has been confusion and sometimes mayhem over the date. If you have managed to work your way back to the 1750’s in tracing your ancestors you will have arrived at the time when England lost eleven days.
The story begins with the early Roman calendar that included months and years whose length varied from year to year. In 46BC Julius Caesar consulted Sosigenes (thought to be one of Cleopatra’s astrologers). He decided that the year we call 46BC should last 445 days and that future years should have 365 days, with a leap year every fourth year. This became known as the Julian calendar.
During the seventh century, the spread of Christianity led to Christmas Day being recognised as the start of the year. Then in the twelfth century, the Church decided that the year should begin on the Feast of the Annunciation of the Virgin Mary – March 25th (known as Lady Day).
Then, during the late 16th century work of the 6th century Anglo-Saxon monk, Bede, was submitted to Pope Gregory XIII who accepted the calculations. He made the decision to issue a more accurate calendar that ultimately was accepted and proclaimed that Sosigenes had made a mistake in calculating each year as 365.22 days (the devil is all in the detail here); he was advised that each year was in fact 365.2422 days long. There was an error amounting to 0.78 days per 100 years.
Pope Gregory XIII made a proclamation that October 5th, 1582 was to be October 15th. Roman Catholic countries changed quickly but Protestants held back. It was not until 1750 that Britain decided to conform to what had become known as the Gregorian calendar.
The Calendar (New Style) Act of 1750 ruled that the day after September 2nd, 1752 should be September 14th – a jump of 11 days. Rioting broke out, as people feared their lives were being shortened.
It was also decreed that 1752 should end with December 31st. So, remembering that the year number was changed on March 25th (not January 1st), the day after March 24th 1751 would be March 25th, 1752 advancing the year as usual.
Thus the earlier days of 1752 never existed, as the deleted days of September 3rd to 13th also never existed. The year 1752 was then 72 days short.
Some objected to having to pay a full year’s tax on 354 days of income. The Government decided the tax year 1752-53 should keep its usual length, so it was extended from March 24th (the day before Lady Day) to April 5th. That is why our tax year still ends on April 5th.
In conclusion therefore remember documented dates before March 25th, 1752 do not necessarily always corroborate a stated period of time. And, references to any New Year's Day before 1752, in Great Britain meant March 25th
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