Today (April 14) in London History – “fixed for eternity”

If the much discussed (in the first half of the 20th century) calendar reform had come about, today, April 14th would have been, for evermore, Easter Sunday. This Today in London History podcast tells the tal.e


London Calling.

Let’s narrow that down.

London Walks Calling.

If you’ve put ashore here, a warm welcome to the Today in London History podcast.

This project started – on a whim – on December 26th. It was a personal challenge. My own personal London Walks Marathon. Wanted to see if I could put out a Today in London History podcast for a year. This is, I think, the 110th in the series. So we’re nearly a third of the way there. Quite a slog. But we’re getting there. I’m reasonably confident we’ll make it. The big question – which is already reddening the distant horizon – is what happens next December 26th? Will I keep this show on the road?

Anyway, that’s background. Anybody who’s chugged along from Day One – or indeed, even part of the journey – will know by now that I’ve got a weakness for, a taste for the flakey and eccentric and unusual and bizarre and quixotic. That episode about the Milk Farm in St James’s Park for example. Or the twins being launched into eternity, holding hands when the condemned cart was pulled out from under them and they swung by their necks from the hangman’s noose at Tyburn Tree. 

And lo and behold, whaddaya know, we’ve got another off-the-wall, flaky one for today, April 14th.

The year is 1911.

And they’ve apparently got too much time on their hands in the House of Commons. As evidenced by MP Robert Pearce introducing a Calendar Reform bill. This MP has form in these matters. He was a prime mover behind the Daylight Saving Bill. 

And look, I hasten to add, it’s not just a couple of dotty MPs who are bandying these ideas about. The matter has reached the biggest stage of all – it’s become a serious international question. The British Government have been invited by people who know a thing or two about clocks – the Swiss Government – to take part in an International Diplomatic Conference on the subject of fixing Easter and generally remodelling the calendar. 

Here’s what’s proposed. See what you think.

What the reformers are suggesting is that each year would have 364 days. And would be divided into four equal parts. 91 days per quarter. 

New Year’s Day would be the extra day – the 365th day. What’s more, it would always be a Bank Holiday. And furthermore, it wouldn’t be counted. A little bit of calendar sleight of hand. A three-card trick. Now you see it, now you don’t.

Now please, class, stop shooting your hands up in the air to be called on. Mr Robert Pearce is ahead of you. He’s already thought of Leap Year. And he’s got a plan for it. And the plan is: give it the same treatment you give New Year’s Day. It’s a freebie. You don’t count it. It doesn’t have to be paid for. Oh, and one other thing, it’s not on February 29th. There is no quadrennial February 29th. Ever again. The extra day – the Leap Year Day – is inserted between June 31st and July 1st.

Ah, yes, you noticed June 31st, didn’t you. Right, let’s take a closer look at the proposed Reformed Calendar. We said 91 days per quarter. It’s still twelve months, so that’s three months per quarter. Same twelve months by name. But some of the months have been nipped and tucked a bit. And others are packing a bit more punch, have moved up a weight class. So, let’s you and I go for a walk, have a saunter, month by month, through the reformed calendar.  January’s been nipped and tucked. It just has 30 days. February, though, the runt of the pack, is the bodybuilder on steroids. February now has 30 days. And March – same old March that we know – 31 days.

Now let’s master the pattern. It was 30 days for January, 30 days for February and 31 days for March. That’s your first quarter. And that’s the three-month quarterly pattern. 30 days, 30 days and 31 days. In that order.

So, moving on through the year: Second quarter: April: 30 days; May: 30 days; June: 31 days. 

Third-quarter: July: 30 days; August 30 days; September 31 days.

Fourth-quarter: October: 30 days; November: 30 days; Finally, December: 31 days.

Yes, I know, no more Halloween. The cruellest cut of all. 

What else? What other advantages – if they are advantages – would accrue (if that’s the word) to calendar reform: well, Easter and other Bank Holidays would occur on fixed dates. Beginning in 1912. April 14th – that’s our date today – would always be Easter Sunday. 

Christmas Day would always fall on a Monday. And so on. 

The calendar’s advocates argued that their proposed reforms would make the calendar uniform, would make it rational. Fix it once and for all – for eternity. One of the implications would be that if your birthday was on, say, Wednesday, July 16th, July 16th would always be a Wednesday.

They said rationalising the calendar – making it uniform and predictable – would bring profound economic and practical benefits. No more valuable time would be wasted in devising annual timetables and work rotas.

One problem, though, was this wasn’t just a two-horse race. Our present Gregorian calendar up against the sleek new uniform, rational calendar. There was another horse in the race. Some people wanted a 13 month calendar. 13 months of 28 days each. Yes, four seven day weeks.

And there were a couple of other factors milling about. Apart from tradition and customary, hidebound,  long usage. Opponents pointed out that when Julius Caesar tried to reform the calendar he created “the year of confusion.” When the British government gave it a go in 1752, they faced riots. Angry mobs chanting, “We want our missing days back.”

The upshot? 

For all of its obvious merits, it didn’t happen. The argument went on for decades and it just couldn’t get home, couldn’t clear the hurdles. Too much inertia, too much in the way of vested interests. If I could hazard a big picture guess – peer into a crystal ball that had a range of half a millennium – my guess would be it will happen. But that’s probably at least two centuries in the future.

Ok, nearly there. Here’s the 50 pence in the Christmas pudding. Yes, the little Today in London recommendation. Has to be the Clockmaker’s Museum in its new home at the Science Museum. It’s the oldest collection of clocks and watches in the world.  

And finally, for some fun – some more fun – let’s end this with a look at how those eminently sensible people, the Dutch, name their months. They don’t use the Roman names we use. Roman names which don’t make any sense at all, if you think about it. September, for example. That literally means the seventh month. But September’s the ninth month. October, that literally means the eighth month. But October’s the tenth month. November means the ninth month, But it’s the 11th month. And, yes, December, means the tenth month but it is of course the 12th month. It’s nomenclature nonsense. I much prefer the way the Dutch do it. It’s not just more sensible, it’s prettier, much more appealing.

January – in Dutch-speak – is the Chilly month.

February is Vegetation month.

March is Spring month.

April is Grass month.

May is Flower month (love that)

June is Summer month.

July is Hay month.

August is Harvest month.

September is Autumn month.

October is Wine month. Our friends the Germans are right there with the Dutch on that one, the Oktoberfest.

November is – I’m flinching here, poor creatures – yes, November is Slaughter month.

And December is Winter month.

And on that note, from the 14th day of Grass month, good night from London. 

You’ve been listening to the daily London Walks podcast. Emanating from – home of London’s only award-winning walking tour company. Indeed, the oldest urban walking tour company on the planet. Walking tours fronted by accomplished professionals: barristers, doctors, the former Editor of Independent Television News, Royal Shakespeare Company actors, Museum of London archaeologists, the world’s leading expert on Jack the Ripper, distinguished academics – a Cambridge University palaeontologist, a University College London geologist, elite, award-winning professionally qualified Blue Badge guides, etc. Guides who make the new familiar and the familiar new. Well, you get the idea. See you tomorrow. 

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