Sunday Closing (Wales) Act 1881

The Sunday Closing (Wales) Act 1881 was an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. It was one of the Licensing Acts 1828 to 1886. It required the closure of all public houses in Wales on Sundays. The Act had considerable political importance as a formal acknowledgement of the separate character of Wales, setting a precedent for future legislation and decisions. It was repealed in 1961.

Introduction of the legislation

The legislation was introduced by the Liberal Government elected in 1880 under Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone. It was the first Act since the union between England and Wales in 1535–42 which specifically applied only to Wales. A similar Bill which would have applied in England was rejected by Parliament. The 1881 Act did not apply to Monmouthshire, but was extended over that county in 1915 under wartime legislation which was reaffirmed in 1921. However, later Acts which were specific to Wales, including the Welsh Intermediate Education Act 1889, and the Welsh Cemeteries Act 1908, were also applied to Monmouthshire.

Background and effects

The legislation followed pressure by the temperance movement and, in particular, the nonconformist chapels. According to historian John Davies, the public houses in Wales had become “recruiting centres for the Conservative Party” following earlier Liberal legislation to restrict the licensed trade, and there was considerable backing among Welsh working class men to restrict their opening. However, one of the effects of the legislation was to encourage the opening of a large number of private social clubs which were excluded from it, and the legislation seems to have had little effect on drunkenness. According to Davies, “above all, connected Welshness with negativity”, and it became increasingly unpopular through the 20th century


The Act was repealed through the Licensing Act 1961, which allowed local authorities in Wales to hold polls of their residents on the continuation of the ban. By 1996 all local government areas except Dwyfor in north west Wales had voted in favour of opening licensed premises on Sundays, and that year changes in local government boundaries resulted in the removal of the last ban. The requirement for regular polls on Sunday-opening in Wales was abolished in 2003.

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