In England the ‘usual quarter days’ in each year are:
25th March (Lady Day)
24th June (Midsummer Day)
29th September (Michaelmas Day)
25th December (Christmas Day).
One way of remembering these dates (leaving aside Christmas Day, which is easy to remember) is that the relevant dates are all in the 20s and have the same other number as the number of letters in the month to which they refer. For example, there are five letters in the word ‘March’ and the quarter day in March is the 25th. There are four letters in the word ‘June’ and the quarter day in June is the 24th. And so on.
Historical Note on Quarter Days
The “usual quarter days” are all Church festivals: 25th March is Lady Day (the Annunciation); 24th June is Midsummer Day, or the birth of St. John the Baptist; 29th September is Michaelmas Day; and 25th December is Christmas Day.
Dating by reference to festivals was common in mediaeval times. See, for example, C.R. Cheney (ed.), Handbook of Dates for Students of English History, Royal Historical Society, 1945, page 40:
- “Reference has been made above … to the widespread practice of dating by the nearest festival of the Church. Sometimes this is in addition to the dating by the Roman calendar … At other times one observes in a single class of medieval records, or in a single chronicle, the use of either method indifferently. … But in general it may be said that the method of dating by festivals was early in favour with chroniclers and only in the thirteenth century became usual in dating letters and other documents. It was also used very early for specifying the days of markets and fairs, or those on which rents or other payments were due: of some such we are reminded in modern times by the fact that our English quarter-days still correspond with four Church festivals (Christmas, the Annunciation, the Nativity of St. John the Baptist, and Michaelmas), and other days were similarly used, such as the Conversion of St. Paul and the feast of St. James the Apostle. (The [traditional] Scottish quarter-days are the Purification, or Candlemas (2 February), Whit-Sunday (fixed at 15 May), Lammas (1 August) and Martinmas (11 November)). Hocktide, the second Monday and Tuesday after Easter, was a movable feast often specified for the payment of rents.“
Even within surviving law reports, there are reported cases going back to the beginning of the seventeenth century in which the usual quarter days are referred to as being “usual” (see, for example, Wm. Clun’s Case, 10 Co. Rep. 126b).
The Annunciation (25th March) used to be the first day of the year before the reformation of the English calendar by the Calendar (New Style) Act 1750. With the start of the new year being a natural choice for the payment of rent, it is likely that the other festivals became usual merely because they were at convenient intervals of roughly one quarter each.
The English calendar was fundamentally restructured by the Calendar (New Style) Act 1750, 24 George 2, c. 23 (as amended by the Calendar Act 1751, 25 George 2, c. 30). The 1750 Act was entitled “An Act for regulating the Commencement of the Year, and for correcting the Calendar now in Use“. Section I of that Act provided that:
- “… in and throughout all his Majesty’s Dominions and Countries in Europe, Asia, Africa, and America, belonging or subject to the Crown of Great Britain, the said Supputation, according to which the Year of our Lord beginneth on the twenty-fifth Day of March, shall not be made use of from and after the last Day of December 1751;
and that the first Day of January next following the said last Day of December shall be reckoned, taken, deemed and accounted to be the first Day of the Year of our Lord 1752;
and the first Day of January, which shall happen next after the said first Day of January 1752, shall be reckoned, taken, deemed and accounted to be the first Day of the Year of our Lord 1753;
and so on, from Time to Time, the first Day of January in every Year, which shall happen in Time to come, shall be reckoned, taken, deemed and accounted to be the first Day of the Year;
and that each new Year shall accordingly commence, and begin to be reckoned, from the first Day of every such Month of January next preceding the twenty-fifth Day of March, on which such Year would, according to the present Supputation, have begun or commenced …“
Section VI of that Act went on to provide:
- “That nothing in this present Act contained shall extend, or be construed to extend, to accelerate or anticipate the Time of Payment of any Rent or Rents, Annuity or Annuities, or Sum or Sums of Money whatsoever, which shall become payable by Virtue or in Consequence of any Custom, Usage, Lease, Deed, Writing, Bond, Note, Contract or other Agreement whatsoever, now subsisting, or which shall be made, signed, sealed or entered into, at any Time before the said fourteenth Day of September, or which shall become payable by virtue of any Act or Acts of Parliament now in Force, or which shall be made before the Said fourteenth Day of September, or the Time of doing any Matter or Thing directed or required by any such Act or Acts of Parliament to be done in relation thereto …“
The old practice was therefore preserved in spite of the calendar being altered so that the first day of the year was now 1st January rather than 25th March. This practice has persisted to date so that even many twenty-first century commercial leases are drafted so that rent is payable on the usual quarter days. Some other jurisdictions, including Scotland, have altered the usual quarter days by statute so that they fall on days which appear more sensible and memorable to modern minds, but no such thing has been done in England.