Half-day closing

It used to be the case in the UK that shops closed for half a day in the middle of the week. What a lovely idea. Send all your staff home early for a cup of tea and a nice biscuit. A chance to recuperate from the gallimaufry of the retail world. An opportunity to recharge the mercantile batteries before a relentless Friday. There were no relentless Mondays as there was no Sunday opening. (That didn’t happen until 1994 for large stores.)

Staff were fully prepped and ready to go come Monday 9am, having had a whole day off. Retail used to be so relaxed.

It was the Shops Act of 1911 that first introduced a weekly half-day off work for retail staff.

The law was repealed in 1994, the same year the poor shop assistants were having to work Sundays as well. In some areas, however, local traders came to a mutual agreement that they would all close on the same afternoon each week, usually on the quietest day.

The trouble with “early closing day” is that it could be on a different day in each locality. In one village it might be Wednesdays; in another, Thursdays. You couldn’t know, unless you lived there, or you were the one fruitlessly hammering on the door of the baker demanding buns, baps, and barmcakes to no avail.

While half-day closing largely died out once it no longer became mandatory, there are still pockets where shops close early one day a week. The difference is that now we have online noticeboards to tell you which ones are shut where.

The other story I like about half-day closing is the idea that the English Football League club Sheffield Wednesday got their name because the original team members played on a Wednesday. It was the only day they could: their half-day off. (You surely didn’t think they were going to play on a Sunday, did you? Would have been unthinkable. O tempora, O mores.)


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