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|Long title||An Act for Regulating the Commencement of the Year; and for Correcting the Calendar now in Use|
|Citation||24 Geo. 2 c. 23|
|Introduced by||Lord Chesterfield|
|Territorial extent||"In and throughout all his Majesty's dominions and countries in Europe, Asia, Africa, and America"|
Territorial extent of (original) subsequent repeals (to (i.e., after) the Anniversary Days Observance Act 1859): England and Wales, Scotland
|Royal assent||27 May 1751|
|Commencement||1 January 1752|
|Amended by||Calendar Act 1752, Anniversary Days Observance Act 1859, Statute Law Revision Act 1948, Statute Law (Repeals) Act 1971, Statute Law (Repeals) Act 1986|
|Text of statute as originally enacted|
|Text of the Calendar (New Style) Act 1750 as in force today (including any amendments) within the United Kingdom, from legislation.gov.uk|
The Calendar (New Style) Act 1750 (c.23) (also known as Chesterfield's Act after Philip Stanhope, 4th Earl of Chesterfield) was an Act of the Parliament of Great Britain. The Act had two parts: first, it reformed the calendar of England[a] and the British Dominions so that the new legal year began on 1 January rather than 25 March (Lady Day); and, second, Great Britain and its Dominions adopted (in effect)[b] the Gregorian calendar, as already used in most of western Europe.
The Parliament held that the Julian calendar then in use, and the start of the year on 25 March, were
attended with divers inconveniences, not only as it differs from the usage of neighbouring nations, but also from the legal method of computation in Scotland, and from the common usage throughout the whole kingdom, and thereby frequent mistakes are occasioned in the dates of deeds and other writings, and disputes arise therefrom.
In England and Wales, the legal year 1751 was a short year of 282 days, running from 25 March to 31 December. 1752 began on 1 January. To align the calendar in use in England to that on the continent, the Gregorian calendar was adopted, and the calendar was advanced by 11 days: Wednesday 2 September 1752 was followed by Thursday 14 September 1752.[c] The year 1752 was thus a short year (355 days) as well.
As well as adopting the Gregorian rule for leap years, Pope Gregory's rules for the date of Easter were also adopted. However, with religious strife still on their minds, the British could not bring themselves to adopt the Catholic system explicitly: the Annexe to the Act established a computation for the date of Easter that achieved the same result as Gregory's rules, without actually referring to him. The algorithm, set out in the Book of Common Prayer as required by the Act, includes calculation of the Golden Number and the Sunday Letter, which (in the Easter section of the Book) were presumed to be already known. The Annexe to the Act includes the definition: "Easter-day (on which the rest depend) is always the first Sunday after the Full Moon, which happens upon, or next after the Twenty-first Day of March. And if the Full Moon happens upon a Sunday, Easter-day is the Sunday after." The Annexe subsequently uses the terms "Paschal Full Moon" and "Ecclesiastical Full Moon", making it clear that they only approximate to the real Full Moon.
Scotland had already partly made the change: its calendar year had begun on 1 January since 1600. The remainder of the act applied equally to Scotland, a part of the Kingdom of Great Britain since the Acts of Union 1707.
At the time, the Kingdom of Ireland was a semi-autonomous kingdom in a personal union with the Kingdom of Great Britain. So that the calendar in Ireland would remain harmonised with that of Great Britain, the Parliament of Ireland passed similarly worded legislation as the "Calendar (New Style) Act, 1750".
Some history books say that some people rioted after the calendar change, asking that their "eleven days" be returned. However this is very likely a myth, based on only two primary sources: The World, a satirical journal of Lord Chesterfield; and a painting by William Hogarth.
Chesterfield was behind the Act. He wrote to his son, "Every numerous assembly is a mob, let the individuals who compose it be what they will. Mere sense is never to be talked to a mob; their passions, their sentiments, their senses and their seeming interests alone are to be applied to. Understanding have they collectively none." Here, he was boasting of his skill in having the Bill passed through the Lords; the 'mob' in question was his fellow peers.
When the son of the Earl of Macclesfield (who had been influential in passing the Act) stood for Parliament in Oxfordshire as a Whig in 1754, dissatisfaction with the calendar reform was one of a number of issues raised by his Tory opponents. In 1755, William Hogarth produced a painting (and an engraved print from the painting) loosely based on these elections, entitled An Election Entertainment, which shows a placard carrying the slogan "Give us our Eleven Days" (on floor at lower right). An example of the resulting incorrect history is by Ronald Paulson, author of Hogarth, His Life, Art and Times, who wrote that "the Oxfordshire people … are specifically rioting, as historically the London crowd did, to preserve the 'Eleven Days' the government stole from them in September 1752 by changing the calendar".
Thus the "calendar riot" fiction was born. The election campaign depicted concluded in 1754, after a very lengthy contest between Court Whigs and Jacobite Tories. Every issue between the two factions was brought up, including the question of calendar reform. The Tories attacked the Whigs for every deviation, including their alleged favouritism towards foreign Jews and the "Popish" calendar. Hogarth's placard, part of a satire on the character of the debate, was not an observation of actual crowd behaviour.
There were, however, legitimate concerns lest tax and other payments arise any earlier under the new calendar than they would otherwise have done. Consequently, Provision 6 (Times of Payment of Rents, Annuities) of the Act stipulated that monthly or yearly payments would not become due until the dates that they originally would have done had the Julian calendar continued or, in the words of the Act, "[Times of Payment of Rents, Annuities] at and upon the same respective natural days and times as the same should and ought to have been payable or made or would have happened in case this Act had not been made".
Several theories have been proposed for the odd beginning of the British tax year on 6 April. One is that from 1753 until 1799, the tax year began on 5 April, which corresponded to 25 March Old Style. After the twelfth skipped Julian leap day in 1800, it was changed to 6 April, which still corresponded to 25 March Old Style. However it was not changed when a thirteenth Julian leap day was skipped in 1900, so the tax year in the United Kingdom still begins on 6 April. However Poole thought that quarter days, such as Lady Day on 25 March, marked the end of the quarters of the financial year. Thus, although 25 March Old Style marked the beginning of the civil year, the next day, 26 March Old Style was until 1752 the beginning of the tax year. After removing eleven days in 1752, this corresponded to 6 April New Style, where it remains today. Although Poole's theory is supported by one dictionary, the Oxford English Dictionary as well as other sources state that quarter days mark the beginning of their respective quarters.[d]