What Are Quarter Days & Why Do We Use Them?
Midsummer’s Day – 24th June
While last Friday was the Summer Solstice and celebrated by many, Monday 24 June is officially Midsummer’s Day.
One thing I’ve always loved about living in England is the difference between the changing seasons. I love to be outdoors and each season is my favourite while we’re in it, although we never know quite where we stand with Summer (what Summer?) and I’ve always had a particular fondness for Autumn’s bounty and quiet contemplation.
One of the fascinating quirks of the English commercial property market is that it is still common practice to have rents payable on the old fashioned ‘quarter days’, often simply referred to even in modern leases as ‘the usual quarter days’.
Historically, rents have always been payable on the quarter days only and many commercial and agricultural landowners still take much of their income on this basis.
What are ‘the quarter days’?
These are fixed dates which go back at least to the Middle Ages. They are linked to religious festivals which fall around the solstices and equinoxes, which in turn have older significance.
The English quarter days still go by traditional names:
- Lady Day (25 March)
- Midsummer Day (24 June)
- Michaelmas (29 September) (or ‘Micklemas’)
- Christmas (25 December)
Lady Day was New Years Day until as recently as 1752, when 1 January was adopted instead. However, the British tax year still starts on “Old” Lady Day – 6th April (6th April under the Gregorian calendar introduced in 1582 corresponded to 25th March under the previously used Julian calendar).
What happens on a quarter day?
Another relevance of the quarter days is that all debts and lawsuits had to be settled and a public record made by the quarter day. This meant arguments and disputes – in theory at least – were not allowed to linger on. I think this has a wonderful resonance in the modern world where, although so much of our business is instant and instantly forgotten, the concepts of resolution and forgiveness aren’t always employed. It sounds perfectly sensible for us all to take time at least every quarter as an opportunity to reflect on the lessons and challenges of the previous 3 months and then have a moment of reckoning and settlement – wiping the slate clean – before moving on to the next season. Many business have quarterly financial reviews so ensure they are on track to meet their annual anticipated budget, but why not use the opportunity to reflect on what’s gone well and what can instead be let go as it is no longer serving the required purpose?
In addition to rent payments, staff were hired and school terms started on the quarter days and for this reason in many schools and universities the autumn term is still called the Michaelmas term having often started on 29 September.
- In pre-Christian Ireland the Celtic quarter days applied – they sit around half way through the English quarters – each of these dates had cultural significance and many traditional festivals are still celebrated on these dates.
- Lughnasadh (1 August)
- Samhain (1 November)
- Imbolc (1 February)
- Beltaine (1 May)
In Scotland and in many parts of Norther England the traditional quarter days are different again – these aren’t used in English law now but you can see how confusing things might have been for northern English cities, especially if you were a stranger in town!
- Candlemas (2 February)
- Whitsunday (legislatively fixed for this purpose on 15 May)
- Lammas (1 August)
- Martinmas (11 November).
The Scottish system was eventually regularised and from 13 June 1991 the “Scottish term days”, in official use are:
- 28 February
- 28 May
- 28 August
- 28 November
Why do we still use quarter days?
Although the history is rather charming, it’s not always practical for Landlords to wait 3 months for income and most Tenants much prefer to keep a tighter rein on cashflow. Whenever I see in a commercial lease the words ‘rent to be paid on the usual quarter days’, several issues come to mind:
- If the Tenant is happy to pay on those dates, we should definitely be setting out clearly in the lease exactly what the dates are in each year. I’m sure we’d all love to be googling ‘the usual quarter days’ only to find that there are different dates throughout the UK and one of them falls conveniently on Christmas day!
- Even if the parties do want to pay rent quarterly, there’s no reason why more convenient quarter days can’t be used – there is nothing preventing the parties from putting their preferred quarter days in, such as the first of December instead of the 25th.
- For a tenant, it may well be preferably to pay monthly and I always ask Tenant clients if they want to consider asking for this. Often the subject won’t have come up during initial negotiations, or the Tenant may have been told that the point wasn’t open for negotiation.