For the first time in recorded history, there was not a birth nor death after September 2nd 1752 until September 14th of that year. An astonishing statistic until we realise the 3rd to the 13th did not exist in that year of 1752.
Those missing days could not be blamed on a badly printed calendar. Two years earlier an Act of Parliament had decreed three major changes. Firstly the old Julian calendar was abandoned and the Gregorian calendar adopted. This had the knock-on effect of changing the date of the new year which, up to that time, had been March 25th and was now January 1st. Thus 1751 began on March 25th and ended on December 31st, a rather short year of just 282 days.
Next year the first Wednesday in September was the 2nd. The following day, a Thursday, was the 14th. This seemingly odd decision was necessary to bring the two calendars into line, while also providing the opportunity for legislation and making the necessary adjustments for leap years and clarifying the dates for the movable feast of Easter.
When I was at school we were taught the country was up in arms at the loss of eleven days. It seems the populace thought the politicians had deprived them of eleven days from their personal allocation, effectively shortening their lives. Talk of rioting and mass hysteria was quite ludicrous, no such panic existed. However it does raise the question as to why such was ever suggested.
Most critics point to two sources for this myth: the satirical journal called The World from Lord Chesterfield and, most often, a painting by William Hogarth entitled An Election Entertainment which features a character holding a placard with the slogan “Give us our Eleven Days”. Clearly both sources are satirical and the talk of riots or even the smallest complaint is quite fanciful.
Some of the gibberish written about these events include the ‘history’ of the life of William Hogarth written by Ronald Paulson. He speaks of the riots of people in Oxfordshire and of the Londoners who had done the same earlier. All other references to the ‘riot’ seem to stem from this one written reference and that is based on a misunderstanding of what Hogarth had painted. The painting dates from 1754 and represents a lengthy political election battle between Whigs and Tories who threw every issue imaginable into the ring. This, of course, included the calendar reform.