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Calendar change of 1752


It must have been noticed by Voltaire on coming to England in 1726, and by the young artist Joshua Reynolds when travelling to Europe in 1749. British and Continental calendars are out of step.


Useful to know this if you are an Englishman planning a continental trip. Say, for example, you want to spend Christmas in Paris in 1750. (A handy year to go: Britain and France, for once, are not at war). Leave England two days before Christmas and you find, when you get to France, that you've missed it! Indeed, you find it is already January 1751 doubly disconcerting, since 1750 still has three months to run in Britain.


This discrepancy must be particularly irritating to the aristocracy, the people who can afford a leisure trip of this kind. Their favourite continental venues include Venice, Naples and the resort of Spa (now in Belgium), forerunners of the "grand tour" of Europe which will come to be regarded as an essential part of their education.


And these are the people who govern the land. The elders sit in the House of Lords, their offspring in the Commons. They have both opportunity and motive for ridding themselves of the anomaly.


The year they select is 1752, which is shortened in two ways. It starts, as have previous years, the day after Lady Day: 26 March. It runs the usual course until 2nd September, then jumps to the 14th.


Michaelmas Day, 25 September, therefore arrives early. It is pay day for Navy Office employees: in 1752 their pay for the Michaelmas quarter covers 80 days instead of the usual 91. Henry Legge, Treasurer of the Navy on 2000 per annum, receives 439.17s.9d rather than 500. Adam Jellicoe, a clerk of eight years' service on 40 per annum, gets 8.15s.11d instead of 10.


A further innovation: the next year, 1753, starts on 1st January, as do subsequent years. So 1752 is short of three months as well as eleven days.


The alteration created considerable difficulties over such matters as debts, contracts or other formal agreements which either fell due during the 'lost' days or spanned the changeover. A symptom of the confusion and difficulties caused was revealed when the newspapers had to provide complex tables showing how to calculate wages, taking the change into account, and to explain laboriously the legal position in relation to services fixed by the calendar. That the date on which the year began was changed from 25 March to 1 January also served to upset the timing of many annual payments, as well as complicating hirings, rents and apprenticeships.


From John Stevenson, Popular disturbances in England 1700-1832 (Longman 1992).


Most of the populace have no prospect of a European holiday. They take a dim view of the change. Not only do they have to get used to a new calendar. As Stevenson observes, many of their intimate arrangements are called into question.


Birthdays, for instance. If you were born between New Year and Lady Day, you won't have one to celebrate in 1752. But which day will you celebrate in 1753? Say you were born on 1st April: will you continue to celebrate on the same date, or should you add eleven days? The recollections of Henry Cort's children never seem to include his birthday: is this because the lost eleven days have caused such confusion that he has given up celebrating?


More seriously, if you are serving a four-year apprenticeship, on which day does it end? Or maybe you have agreed a lease, or entered a partnership, for a fixed term. Any number of legal agreements are due to terminate on a particular date. Or eleven days later, if a year is to run its normal course of 365 days.


The Government chooses the eleven-day option. Year's end changes from 25 March to 5th April, for tax purposes at least. Something else that endures.


If you see a date quoted before 1753, can you tell which calendar it is based on?


Cornwall, Frederick. This gentleman, cousin to captain James Cornwall, whose extreme gallantry we have already had occasion to record, was lieutenant on the Marlborough, of ninety guns, at the memorable encounter with the French and Spanish fleets off Toulon. That ship was, as may well be remembered, reduced to a mere wreck, and her brave commander slain. Mr. Frederick Cornwall bore his share in defending this devoted vessel with the most active intrepidity, till he was disabled from further exertions by the unhappy loss of his right arm, after having before received several contusions and injuries which were not, at such an exigency, of sufficient consequence to impede his further exertions. As a very proper reward for this spirited conduct, and recompense for the sufferings he underwent in consequence of it, he was immediately promoted to succeed his deceased relative in command of the Marlborough, his commission for that purpose bearing date February the 11th, 1744, being the very day on which the action took place. His wounds, as may naturally be conceived, prevented him from executing the necessary duties of so consequential a command, and the requisite attention to his recovery and future health, demanded his temporary retirement from a service in which he had acquired, at such a personal expence, so much honour.


From Charnock, Biographia Navalis (1797) Vol V pp 288-9.


One thing you can assume: no correction has been applied for the eleven-day loss in 1752. When it comes to which year, however, you cannot always be sure for dates between 1st January and 25 March.


The unambiguous expression 1743/4 indicates a contemporary (old British) date of 1743 and a retrospective (Gregorian) one of 1744. Even before 1753, some chroniclers were writing dates this way: Pepys did occasionally in his diary. More often they quote only the contemporary date.


Accounts written after 1752 often quote retrospective dates. Thus Charnock's account, published in 1797, dates the death of the Marlborough's captain as 11 February 1744; whereas the ship's paybook records it as 11 February 1743. To be unambiguous, call it 11 February 1743/4.


The IGI quotes contemporary dates. If you were baptised in the month that James Cornewall died, the IGI will record your baptism as February 1743.




Main sources of information

18th century politics

John Becher and the American War

Thomas Morgan and the American War

Shelburne, Parry and associates

Dundas and Trotter

Sandwich and Middleton

The Arethusa, Sandwich and Keppel

Law in the 18th century

18th century finance

Religion and sexual mores

18th century London

The 1782 Jamaica convoy

Sinking of the Royal George

Abolition and the Corts

Fact, error and conjecture


Life of Henry Cort