24th October 2017
Moving the clocks: how and why we started this wind up
2am this coming Sunday, 29th October 2017, marks the official end of British Summertime (BST). We put the clocks back by one hour and revert to Greenwich Mean Time (GMT). The mornings will get lighter and the evenings darker. But have you ever wondered why we change the clocks?
NB:A nifty way to remember which way the clocks go and when is ‘Spring forward – fall back’. Before you start to mutter about ‘Fall’ being an Americanism – read here.
2016 marked one-hundred years since we first changed our clocks in this manner. One –hundred years of messing about not only with physical clocks but our body clocks too.
I don’t know about you but I loathe the entire process. Every year, whichever way the clocks are going, I find it takes me ages to adjust.
When did it start and whose bright idea was it?
I’ve long laboured under the belief that all this messing about with the clocks started in WWII to give farmers longer summer days for harvesting. Not quite true it seems.
So who’s to blame?
Benjamin Franklin first came up with the idea in 1784. He proffered the suggestion that if people got up earlier, when it was lighter, it would save on candles. But it was a while before the idea made its way to the UK.
In 1907, as this Telegraph article points out, the great-great-grandfather of Coldplay’s Chris Martin, one William Willett is the one we can blame/thank for introducing the concept of BST to the nation.
A fresh air fiend and keen golfer, Willett observed that people were still sleeping when the sun was up. It became his mission to stop snoozing Britons wasting valuable hours of daylight. Besides which, Mr Willett was no doubt peeved at having his putting curtailed.
His pamphlet ‘The Waste of Daylight’ urged the nation to fling back the bed sheets earlier with his motion to change the clocks. He argued it would improve health and happiness and save the country £2.5 million. I’m sure him getting longer on the golf course was nothing to do with anything.
Willett’s proposition to advance the clocks by eighty minutes in four incremental steps during April, and reversed the same way during September, met with ridicule. His Daylight Saving Bill got nowhere in Parliament in its 1909 introduction.
Undeterred, Willett spent the rest of his days trying to convince that his idea was a good one before dying from the flu in 1915 aged fifty-eight. A year later, on April 30th, 1916, Germany adopted his clock-changing plan and put their clocks forward at 11pm. On 21 May we followed suit with Belgium, Denmark, France, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal and Turkey not far behind.
At this time of course, Britain and Germany were in the throes of WWI (1914-1918) so it was clear that anything able to ease the pressure on the economy and save fuel had to be worth a shot. A bullet free one at that.
A sundial, on a permanent Daylight Saving Time (DST) setting, is a fitting commemoration to Willett’s efforts. It’s in Petts Wood, near his home in Bromley, Kent.
The second world war
1940, the start of the WWII, saw British clocks staying put at the end of BST. Then, the rest of the war years saw the clocks advanced by one hour in the spring and put back an hour each autumn. This went on until July 1945. This put Britain two hours ahead of GMT and operating on British Double Summer Time (BDST).
BDST happened again in 1947. Severe fuel shortages deemed it necessary to advance the clocks by one hour twice during the spring. And they were put back by one hour on two occasions in the autumn.
But is it necessary now?
On a personal level, I’d love to stop this malarkey. It winds me up! (See what I did there?) I can’t think it benefits anyone but the electricity companies that we’re having to put lights on at 3pm in the depths of winter. I’m of the opinion it’s the worst of all worlds as we go to work in the dark and come home in the dark.
Indeed, there are compelling reasons to stop turning the clocks back. And, this is one of them:
Back when I were a lass a three-year experiment ran (1968-1971) to keep BST all year round. I remember it well. It didn’t get light until about 9am but the evenings were much longer. The effects were striking.
‘During this period road casualties fell by 11 percent in England and Wales during the hours affected by the time change. Scotland saw a 17 percent reduction.
There are in the region of 50 percent more fatal and serious injuries among adults travelling during evening rush hour than the morning peak – and three times as many injuries in children.’ Which makes sense if you think about it. At the end of the day people are tired from their working day and so less alert and responsive.
An extra hour of daylight in the evening has the potential to save the NHS £200million a year in accident related costs. And that’s not all. The Home Office believes there could be a 3 percent drop in crime because crimes are more likely to be committed in the evening under cover of darkness than in the mornings.
All this is surely reason enough to stick to BST? If you need more convincing this article from The Telegraph on five reasons to keep daylight saving time all year round will give you more food for thought.
So why haven’t we stopped?
Good question. One that it’s arguably possible to answer in one word: Scotland.
Alex Salmond referred to recent campaigns to ditch DST as an attempt to “plunge Scotland into morning darkness.”
The Telegraph again: ‘The sun wouldn’t be at full strength until 10am in parts of Scotland and the country’s 1,000-or-so dairy farmers, who wake up before 5am, would have to work for hours in the dark. Other farmers and construction workers, who need sunlight to perform their jobs, would end up having to work later into the evening.’
Might a separate time zone for Scotland be a compromise? SST – Scottish Summer Time anyone?
Since all this began then, we’ve had double summer time (GMT + 2 hours) during WWII to permanent British Summer Time (GMT + 1 hour) during the late 1960s. The current system of changing the clocks at the end of March and October has been in place since 1972. Time for a change then?
Here’s something to thrill the golfing fraternity. In the 1980s, the golf industry suggested that up to $400 million (£246.6 million) in sales and fees could generate in one month of daylight saving.
And Willett would approve of that for sure.