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I don’t suppose most people are aware that today, 29th September, is the feast of Michaelmas. It doesn’t loom large in modern life, but at one time it was one of the most important days of the year.

In the church calendar, Michaelmas is the feast of the Archangel Michael, but it’s also one of the four English and Welsh Quarter Days. These were days when debts were due and accounts had to be settled. The four were Lady Day (25th March), Midsummer Day (24th June), Michaelmas (29th September) and Christmas Day.

Lady Day was also New Year’s Day until 1752, and is still theoretically the start of the tax year, although various adjustments in the calendar mean that actually falls nearly a fortnight later. One of the adjustments was the removal of eleven days from 1752 to correct accumulated discrepancies, a move which caused riots by people who thought the government had stolen eleven days of their lives.

Michaelmas was traditionally the date on which annual rents were due. The reason for that is simple enough: it was just long enough after harvest to ensure tenants had the means to pay. In the middle ages, although money was in use, many transactions were made in kind, and a peasant would typically pay his landlord a certain amount of whatever he’d just harvested.

Of course, most rents are paid monthly now, and the significance of Michaelmas is almost as obscure as that of infangthief and outfangthief. Still, if you’re paying a nominal ground rent for something once a year, have a look at the agreement. You may find the sum is officially due at the end of September, and you’re still paying a Michaelmas rent.

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