In this print, 9 tradesman; a weaver, barber, tailor, blacksmith, cobbler, butcher, carpenter, bricklayer, and house-painter play skittles in tavern garden, with wife of weaver arriving from left to berate him. Saint Monday was the traditional unofficial, day-long holiday taken by tradesmen in the 17C to 20C.
Explaining the angry wife in this print, an 18C folk song from Sheffield, England, "The Jovial Cutler," portrays a craftsman enjoying a lazy Saint Monday, much to the dismay of his wife:
"Brother workmen, cease your labour,
Lay your files and hammers by.
Listen while a brother neighbour
Sings a cutler's destiny:
How upon a good Saint Monday,
Sitting by the smithy fire,
We tell what's been done o't Sunday,
And in cheerful mirth conspire."
Soon I hear the trap-door rise up,
On the ladder stands my wife:
"Damn thee, Jack, I'll dust thy eyes up,
Thou leads a plaguy drunken life;
Here thou sits instead of working
Wi' thy pitcher on thy knee;
Curse thee, thou'd be always lurking
And I may slave myself for thee."
"Ah, the bright, fat, idle devil
Now I see thy goings on,
Here thou sits all day to revel
Ne'er a stroke o' work thou'st done.
See thee, look what stays I've gotten,
See thee, what a pair o' shoes;
Gown and petticoat half rotten,
Ne'er a whole stitch in my hose."
"Pray thee, look here, all the forenoon
Thou's wasted with thy idle way;
When does t'a mean to get thy sours done?
Thy mester wants 'em in to-day.
Thou knows I hate to broil and quarrel,
But I've neither soap nor tea;
Od burn thee, Jack, forsake thy barrel,
Or nevermore thou'st lie wi' me."
The tradition of taking Monday off has been common among craft workers since at least the 17C, often ascribed to the regimentation of working class life which occurred with industrialization, before then people could choose their own working hours. Since many workers were taking Monday off, there was often convivial company to be had. They invented a new holiday, Saint Monday, which was usually observed after a late Sunday night at the tavern. Saint Monday became the traditional unofficial holiday taken by tradesmen in the 17C to the early 19C.
British work had always been interrupted to commemorate the annual feasts of Christmas, New Year, & Whitsuntide (the week beginning with the 7th Sunday after Easter). These traditional holidays were universally observed, but the length of the breaks varied. Depending on local convention, work stopped for anywhere from a few days to 2 weeks. There were also communal holidays associated with special, occasional events such as horse races, sporting competitions, and local fairs & traveling circuses & menageries. When one of these attractions arrived in a village or town, regular work more or less stopped, while people flocked to marvel at exotic animals, equestrian acrobats, & assorted oddities.
With only Sunday off to relax, the occurrence of Monday hangovers seems to have been high. Hence the idea of "keeping Saint Monday," a common phrase in the 17C to 19C used to describe taking Mondays off "to relax, to recover from drunkenness, or both." The custom was already well known in the 17C, as evidenced by the line in the play: "They say Monday's Shooemaker's holliday, I'le fall to that trade" (Dekker, If It Be Not Good, The Diuel Is In It (1612).
Monday was sacrosanct. It was the unofficial day off. It was to be spent drinking with friends. In A Collection of Letters for the Improvement of Husbandry and Trade, John Houghton, Fellow of the Royal Society, wrote in his 2nd volume 1683. "When the Frame-work Knitters, or Makers of Silk-Stockings had a great Price for their Work, they have been observed seldom to work on Mundays and Tuesdays, but to spend most of that time at the Ale-House and Nine-Pins. . . . The Weavers, 'tis common with them to be drunk on Munday, to have their Heads ache on Tuesday, and their Tools out of order on Wednesday. As for the Shoemakers, they'l rather be hang'd than not remember St. Crispin on Munday; and it commonly holds as long as they have a penny of Money or pennyworth of Credit."
A rhyme printed in 1639,
You know that Munday is Sundayes brother;
Tuesday is such another;
Wednesday you must go to Church and pray;
Thursday is half-holiday;
On Friday it is too late to begin to spin;
The Saturday is half-holiday again.
Then the industrial revolution came along and imposed strict working schedules on the peasants. But according to E P Thompson, Saint Monday was still widely honored throughout the 18C, 19C, and even the 20C. A moralist complained of London saddlers in 1811, that "we see Saint Monday so religiously kept in this great city...in general followed by a Saint Tuesday also."
See: Tom Hodgkinson, “In Defence of Skiving” in New Statesman, 30 August 2004
Douglas A. Reid, “The Decline of Saint Monday” in Essays in Social History Volume 2