Monday, September 14, 2009

The Year Britain lost Eleven Days

This date in 1752 was somewhat unique for the inhabitants of Great Britain.

They'd gone to bed on 2nd September, 1752. When they awoke, it was the 14th.

In the space of less than a few seconds - the chiming of midnight - eleven days simply vanished from British history.

It's a wonderfully evocative footnote in history, but one with a most mundane origin.

1752 was the year that Britain formerly adopted the 'Gregorian Calendar,' the popularly accepted civil calendar used for date-keeping by most of the rest of Europe.

Until that point, Britain had still been using the 'Julian Calendar,' which had been introduced by Julius Ceaser way back in 46 B.C.

The differences between the Gregorian Calendar and the Julian one were subtle, but significant. The Julian calendar was designed to approximate the Roman tropical year, whereas the Gregorian calendar was aligned to the passage of the sun. Because one was governed by human foibles, the other by the passage of heavenly objects, the two weren't always in alignment.

In fact, because the Vatican first adopted the Gregorian Calendar in 1582, by the time Chesterfield's Act came into effect in 1752 (it had been Stanhope, 4th Earl of Chesterfield, who pushed for calendar reform) Britain was a full eleven days out-of-sync with the calendar of mainland Europe!

It's a fascinating, if little known footnote in history.

Today, we take our synchronicity with the rest of the world for granted - with traditional barriers like language, culture and economics eroding before our eyes. It's hard to believe that just over 250 years ago (a blink in the eye in historical terms) the people of Britain and mainland Europe weren't just separated by the English channel, but by almost two whole weeks as well!

It makes today's five hour time difference between New York and London seem utterly inconsequential.

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