Quarter days


Quarter days

In British and Irish tradition, the quarter days were the four dates in each year on which servants were hired, and rents and rates were due. They fell on four religious festivals roughly three months apart and close to the two solstices and two equinoxes.

The significance of quarter days is now limited, although leasehold payments and rents for business premises in England are often still due on the old English quarter days.

The Quarter days have been observed at least since the Middle Ages::"These have been the days when accounts had to be settled, days when magistrates paid their visits to outlying parts in order to determine outstanding cases and suits. There is a principle of justice enshrined in this institution: debts and unresolved conflicts must not be allowed to linger on. However complex the case, however difficult to settle the debt, a reckoning has to be made and publicly recorded; for it is one of the oldest legal principles of this country that justice delayed is injustice. Among the provisions that the barons wrested from the extortionate and unjust King John in Magna Carta (1215 CE), a safeguard for gentry like themselves and hungry peasants alike, was the promise that 'To none will we sell, or deny, or delay right or justice'. Days of assize ensure openness, assurance and timeliness of justice, justice not sold, not denied, not delayed." [Clines, David J. A. (1998). " [http://www.shef.ac.uk/bibs/DJACcurrres/Postmodern2/Quarter.html On the Way to the Postmodern: Old Testament Essays, 1967-1998] ". Continuum International Publishing. p. 801.]

In England

The English quarter days (also observed in Wales) are:
* Lady Day (25 March)
* Midsummer Day (24 June)
* Michaelmas (29 September)
* Christmas (25 December)

Lady Day was also the first day of the year in the British Empire until 1752. The British tax year still starts on 'Old' Lady Day (6 April under the Gregorian calendar corresponded to 25 March under the Julian calendar).

The "cross-quarter days" are four holidays falling in between the quarter days: Candlemas, May Day (1 May), Lammas, and All Hallows (1 November). The Scottish term days, which fulfil a similar role as days on which rents are paid, correspond more nearly to the cross-quarter days than to the English quarter days.

There is a mnemonic for remembering on which day of the month the first three quarter days fall (Christmas being easy to recall): The second digit of the day of the month equals the number of letters in the month's name; i.e. Lady Day is 25 March, and March has five letters; similarly June has four letters and September nine, so Midsummer Day and Michaelmas fall on the 24th and 29th.

In Ireland

The Irish quarter days were observed on the same days as in England. They are no longer generally observed.

In Scotland

The "Old Scottish term days" were:
* Candlemas (2 February)
* Whitsunday (legislatively fixed for this purpose on 15 May)
* Lammas (1 August)
* Martinmas (11 November).

These were also the dates of the Quarter Days observed in northern England until the 18th century. [Fitton, Mike (1994) [http://www.mpsgg.com/WDIM/WDIM_06.html "Quarter Days and Courts"] ]

The "Term & Quarter Days (Scotland) Act 1990" redefined the "Scottish term days", in official use, as the 28th of February, May, August and November respectively. The Act specifies that the new dates take effect on 1991 Jun 13 (12 months from the date it was passed).

Notes and references


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