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INFORMATION ABOUT DATES

Julian and Gregorian Calendar Change.The Julian and Gregorian Calendars

Dates - some dates, especially those derived from J.W. Walker (see note), are shown in the format 'yyyy/yyyy', e.g. 1424/1425, this is related to the introduction of the Gregorian Calendar.

What does this mean and why did this come about? Read more .....

Julian Calendar
In ancient times, the Julian Calendar (named after Julius Caesar) was in use. However, the Julian Calendar did not correspond exactly to the solar year. Over the centuries, by following the Julian calendar, the Easter festival was slowly but surely moving away from the spring equinox towards the summer solstice.

Pope Gregory's Reform of the Calendar - the Gregorian or New Style Calendar (1582)
To correct the errors which had built up over the centuries, Pope Gregory XIII reformed the calendar in 1582 and declared that Thursday 4th October 1582 in the Julian Calendar should be immediately followed by Friday 15th October in the Gregorian Calendar (thus cutting 10 days in the adjustment). The Gregorian Calendar specified a calendar with a year length of 365 days, 5 hours, 40 minutes, 20 seconds. This required 3 days to be dropped every 400 years. So those years which were divisible by 100 would only be leap years if they were also divisible by 400.

Catholic countries adopted the Gregorian Calendar but England, being Protestant, did not. England therefore remained 10 days ahead of the New Style Calendar. To further complicate matters, England had taken the year 1700 to be a leap year, so by 1752, the difference between the Julian and Gregorian calendars now amounted to eleven days.

The Calendar Act 1752
In Britain the Calendar Act 1752 introduced the Gregorian Calendar and the start of year date was changed to 1st January by the same Act of Parliament. The day following 31st December 1751 was decreed to be 1st January 1752, thus 1752 was the first year in England to officially begin on 1st January. In addition, the 11 days difference between the calendars had to be cut out of the year to make the adjustment, thus the 2nd of September 1752 was followed by 14th September and the 11 days in the calendar simply vanished.

Historical Year
In England a year starting on 1st January (known as the historical year) was in general use, e.g. for almanacs, and 1st January had always been celebrated as the New Year festival. The year starting 25th March (Lady Day) was called the Civil or Legal Year, although the phrase Old Style was also used.

Increasingly parish registers, in addition to a new year heading after 24th March showing, for example "1733", had another heading at the end of the following December indicating "1733/4". This showed where the New Style 1734 started even though the Old Style 1733 continued until 24th March. An individual date would be shown as, for example, 3rd March 1733/4 so we are left in no doubt that the date intended was in March 1733 Old Style and 1734 New Style, that is, the month before April 1734.

An oblique stroke is by far the most usual indicator, but sometimes the alternative final figures of the year are written above and below a horizontal line, as in a fraction. Very occasionally, in some documents (but not here!) a hyphen is used, as 1733-34. On this site, dates written with a hyphen, e.g. 1733 - 1734, indicate a date range.

Example of how the dates ran under the Julian or Old Style Calendar:
The year number did not change until 25 March, so taking 1558 as an example, the dates ran as follows:

November 1558
December 1558
January 1558
February 1558
March 1 to 24 1558
March 25 1559

So if you see a document dated any time between January and 24 March before 1752, be aware that in modern terms, you need to add a year. In publications you may see this written as January 1750/51, the year as it was known at the time / the year as we know it now. This is also known as OS (Old Style) and NS (New Style).

In Scotland, 1 January became the official beginning of the year in 1600, the day after 31 December 1599.

 

Note. The Burghs of Cambridgeshire and Yorkshire and the Watertons of Lincolnshire and Yorkshire. J.W. Walker, OBE, FSA, The Journal of the Yorkshire Archaelogical Society, 1931.

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