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The significance of Lady Day

The Brewers’ Company scrapbook contains (amongst many other items) a bill of fare for a dinner on Lady Day in 1694:
2 dishes Salt Fish – 16s
2 dishes Roast Fowl – 12s
2 Pidgon Pyes – £1 4s
Neck Veal & Fillet ragued – 15s
Surloyn beef – 12s
Oranges & Lemons – 3s
(Fire & labour) – 12s
Total – £4 14s

But why did Lady Day, 25 March, warrant such a feast – what was its significance?

Lady Day was one of four quarter days, along with Midsummer (24 June), Michaelmas (29 September) and Christmas (25 December). Each of these is also a significant religious festival, with Lady Day celebrating the Annunciation (nine months before Christmas, when the Angel Gabriel announced to Mary that she would conceive a son). From medieval times at least these dates became significant markers in the legal calendar – rents were due (commercial rents are often collected quarterly today), disputes had to be settled, workers were hired (and presumably fired!) and some schools and universities still name terms after them.

25 March rather than 1 January also marked the new year in England under the ‘old style’ Julian calendar which was used until 1752. Prior to then, documents are often dated with two years, for example our founding charter is dated 22 February 1437/8 – it was still 1437 according to the Julian calendar but already 1438 by modern dating!

Over time the Julian calendar got out of alignment with the solar calendar and by the time England decided it needed to synchronise to the Gregorian calendar in 1752 the difference was 11 days. To remedy this, in 1752 11 days were dropped from the month of September.  However, rather than moving to 1 January, the tax year stayed the same and so, to avoid any loss of revenue, the Treasury added the 11 ‘lost’ days onto what would have been 25 March 1753 i.e. 5 April.  With another day’s adjustment in 1800 (a leap year in the Julian calendar but not the Gregorian), the new tax year became 6 April.

As the end of the tax year approaches once again, it is interesting to reflect on this connection between our current activities and the feast enjoyed by the Brewers’ Company all those years ago on 25 March 1694.