TOMORROW, March 25, is widely known as Lady Day, or sometimes St Mary’s Day in Lent.

However, the full title is “The Feast of the Annunciation of Our Lady, the Blessed Virgin Mary”.

The old word “annunciation” meant an announcement and in this case it indicates the date when the Virgin Mary was informed that she was to become the Mother of Christ. I imagine that would have been quite a shock for her.

Others among us will know that it was also the official financial year end and has strong links with our present Income Tax year that ends on or about April 5. Not surprisingly, many people ask why a major Roman Catholic feast day has become so strongly linked to the English financial world, income tax in particular? It’s a good question and there is an answer.

For the answer, we have to trace our history to the 16th century – 1582 to be precise – when Pope Gregory XIII (Gregory the Great) announced that the existing Julian calendar that dated to the time of Julius Caesar was inaccurate. It differed from the solar calendar by some eleven and a half minutes. That does not sound much but when multiplied by 500 years, it results in a considerably inaccurate calendar.

In fact, the difference between the solar calendar and the Julian calendar had reached a discrepancy of about ten days and it was necessary to correct the error whilst ensuring accuracy thereafter. Pope Gregory therefore consulted the experts and in 1582 introduced his famous Gregorian calendar.

It was quickly adopted by several European countries but the British, being newly Protestants, refused to accept the calendar and continued to celebrate the old dates for Christmas and other festivals, thus becoming more and more inaccurate against the solar calendar and the Europeans. By 1752 the discrepancy was eleven days and even now we commemorate those days by retaining, for example, Old Christmas Day on December 6 in addition to the current Christmas Day on December 25.

So where does income tax fit into all this? Before the Gregorian calendar was accepted by the British, New Year’s Day was on March 25, known as St Mary’s Day in Lent, and in short as Lady Day. That’s when rents were paid, new tenancies arranged and also the termination of old tenancies. The new tax year also began on New Year’s Day in the old calendar, ie Lady Day which was, and still is March 25.

It seems, however, that the British Treasury was aware that if the new tax year began on January 1, the country would lose money and so the Treasury decided that the first new tax year beginning with 1752 should start on the old New Year’s Day, March 25.

It would run for 365 days, a normal year, and end the following year on April 4. Thus the next tax year would begin on April 5. Things went very well until 1800 which was not a Leap Year in the Gregorian calendar but would have been under the Julian system, and so the Treasury, in its infinite wisdom, moved the beginning of the tax year to April 6 where it has remained.

A memento of those times is that April 5 is sometimes known as Latter Lady Day, but more widely and humorously as Old Lady Day.

Lady Day also features in the prophesies of Mother Shipton of Knaresborough. She tried to forecast what might happen if either Easter Day or Good Friday fell on Lady Day. It was widely believed that if this did occur, then the country would experience a national misfortune during the year that followed.

An old verse said that, “If Our Lord falls into Our Lady’s lap, England will meet with a great mishap.”

Examples included 1910 when Good Friday fell on March 25 – King Edward VII died during the following May. Then in 1951, Easter Sunday fell on March 25 and King George VI died within the following year.

Make habit of fun

DURING a recent short visit to York, my wife and I enjoyed a walk in springtime weather as we explored the wonderful Museum Gardens. Quite literally, They are an oasis of peace and tranquillity in a busy city.

The active wildlife was interesting because birds such as blackbirds, wood pigeons and others all walked about the parkland as if they owned it, not showing the slightest fear or awareness of human presence. Similarly, a pair of grey squirrels totally ignored humans as the busy animals searched for a meal.

Another bonus is that the noise of this busy tourist centre cannot be heard from parts of the gardens – truly, they are a place where busy city folk can enjoy a hint of the countryside. The grounds cover about ten acres and the present gardens were created around 1830 and now managed by York Museum Trust.

I was interested in the history of the ruins that are plentiful here – the old walls of St Mary’s Abbey, the remains of St Leonard’s hospice, a good deal of the Roman remains of Eboracum and other unidentified stonework. And, of course, the gardens are delightful and the splendid Yorkshire Museum should not be missed. On one occasion when I was in the museum, Prince Charles asked me about a programme on the newly commissioned BBC Radio York. Happily, I could tell him.

During our visit, I was reminded of the story of a jolly monk who lived at St Leonard’s Priory, separated from St Mary’s Abbey only by a high thick stone wall. He was Brother Jucundus who joined the monks of the priory to live the life of a holy man – a round of prayers, hard work, strict rules of behaviour, no fun with pretty girls and a need to refrain from enjoying too much wine.

As he endured what appeared to be almost a form of imprisonment, Jucundus yearned for life beyond the priory walls, a life with singing and music, fun and games, good food with excellent wine and a lovely sense of freedom. And then, one day when he was in the priory grounds, he heard music and singing, happy laughter and the sound of people having a good time. Bootham Fair had come to town!

His yearning for freedom and enjoyment got the better of him and he decided to sneak into town to enjoy the fun of the fair. In his monk’s robes, he crept out of his cell, found the gate key in the unlocked porter’s lodge and let himself out. He joined the crowds at the fair, still in his monk’s habit and the crowds loved the fat and jolly monk, plying him with food and wine and encouraging him to take part in side shows and various games. He drank more wine and ale until he found himself going up and down on a see-saw with two happy lads at the other end as he sang “In dulcio jubilo, up, up and away we go!”

But then he realised two monks were watching him. They arrested him and took him to the abbot for punishment but the story ends with Jucundus being elected abbot of a much happier priory. Its aura still graces the gardens in York’s Museum Gardens but on our visit, I did not hear Brother Jucundus singing his famous “In dulcio jubilo, up, up and away we go.”