Bank Holiday Blues

It could have been even worse
by Philip Eden

It's nearly 40 years now since the Whit Monday bank holiday was replaced by one fixed to the last Monday in May and re-named, rather unimaginatively, the late-spring bank holiday.

Before that, of course, the date of the bank holiday had varied in parallel with Easter since Whit Sunday always comes seven weeks after Easter Day. Thus Whit Monday could fall on any date between May 11 and June 14, although in practice the earliest one happened on May 12, 1913. This year is one of those rare years when Whitsun coincides with the bank holiday.

The late spring bank holiday weekend has brought some pretty good weather in recent times. Last year was fairly warm with sunny spells, the temperature climbing to 21C in Kent and 20C in London and the Midlands. The equivalent weekends in 2002 and 2001 were both very warm and quite sunny, but t he 2000 holiday was a total washout.

The late spring holidays in 1997, 1992, 1990 and 1989 were all very warm and brilliantly sunny with the temperature soaring into the mid-20s C. Hottest of all since the holiday was fixed was that of 1992 when the temperature reached 27.0C at Southampton on the Saturday, 27.3C at Heathrow on the Sunday, and 28.2C at Norwich on the Monday.

Bef ore 1989 warm examples were less common, although those of 1982, 1978 and 1970 were all pretty good.

Our memories are extremely unreliable when it comes to recalling past weather events, and they can at times be thoroughly paradoxical. We seem to store away memories of hot summers like 1995, 1990, 1983, above all 1976, and further back 1959 and 1947, while most of us would struggle to name the coldest and wettest summers. And yet we remember dreadful bank holiday weekends (some of which probably never even happened) and sometimes deny the very existence of warm sunny ones.

There have, it has to be admitted, been some shockers in the past, but as far as the late-spring holiday weekend is concerned they do not occur very often. Without at doubt, the nastiest in the last 40 years was that of 1984 when a chill north wind blew throughout the land. In eastern England and the Midlands this Arctic wind was accompanied by leaden skies and unrelenting rain. Almost two inches (four weeks' worth) of rain fell, and in Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire, and Hertfordshire it actually rained for 66 of the 72 hours of the long weekend. At Whipsnade, near Dunstable, the maximum temperature was 8.3C on Saturday, 8.4C on Sunday and 8.9C on Monday.

There was some rain for most of us this weekend which was a disappointment especially after the recent warm spell, but, rest assured, it has been worse - much worse.