March 15, 2021 4 min read

Each time it happens people are caught off guard, so why do we change the clocks twice a year? Each October when the mornings are cold and dark, everyone feels grateful for an extra warm hour in bed. Move forward to March and we feel cheated, denied an hour’s rest, especially those of us who must work on Sundays. Unfortunately, we cannot have one without the other, but the move an hour forward in March heralds the long days of summer. Brighter mornings and long warm evenings to relax, meet friends or pursue leisure activities are near. However, this has only been the case for a little over a century.

How does the time change in the UK?

Daylight Saving Time (often referred to as British Summer Time) begins in the UK at 1am on the last Sunday in March. The clocks are moved forward to 2am and remain an hour ahead of Greenwich Mean Time until October. This has no effect on the length of the day, remaining as always 24 hours long, but means that sunrise and sunset occur an hour later in Summer. At 2am on the last Sunday in October, the clocks are set back one hour to 1am, returning to Greenwich Mean Time. This is the origin of the mnemonic ‘spring forward, fall back’ as the clocks move forward in Spring and back in Autumn (Fall).

When did we start changing the clocks?

Daylight Saving Time was first proposed by the American inventor, statesman and future president Benjamin Franklin in 1784. During his time as an American delegate in Paris, he wrote an essay entitled ‘An Economical Project’, suggesting money would be saved on candles if people rose earlier. Although this is thought to have been a satirical observation, it was seized upon and endorsed by friends of his, inventors of a new kind of oil lamp. However, it failed to attract serious attention until 1907, when William Willett, a Kent builder, self – published a pamphlet entitled ‘The Waste of Daylight’. During an early morning ride through Petts Wood near Croydon, he observed the closed blinds of nearby houses. The occupants were still in bed despite the fully risen sun, and he reasoned the time could be constructively used if clocks were reset, waking people earlier. He proposed advancing clocks by 20 minutes on four subsequent Sundays in April and retarding them by 20 minutes over four Sundays in September.

One year later, Willett’s lobbying drew the attention of the Liberal MP Robert Pearce. Pearce introduced a bill in the House of Commons proposing compulsory resetting of clocks in line with Willett’s proposal. After drafting in 1909, the bill was introduced in Parliament several times but was met with scorn and rejection. In April 1916, during the First World War, Germany became the first country to adopt the system. Recognising that fuel used for lighting could be conserved for the war effort if daylight hours were extended, Daylight Saving Time was introduced. Britain followed suit, passing an act on May 17th, and introducing Willett’s system of four incremental time changes on Sunday, May 21st, 1916. Many Allied nations soon followed. Sadly, William Willet died from Flu in 1915 and never lived to see his dream realised.

 In 1925, Parliament passed a law stating that Summer Time Should now begin on the third Sunday in April and end on the first Sunday in October. During the Second World War, British Double Summer Time was Temporarily introduced, moving the clocks forward by two hours during Summer Time. In October the clocks were only set back one hour, staying one hour ahead of Greenwich Mean Time to boost productivity in wartime. Following the war, British Summer Time returned to normal and remained this way until 1968. Between October 1968 and October 1971, the British government abolished Daylight Saving Time to adopt British Standard Time. This was designed to give British citizens more daylight hours in the evening all year round. Despite a government report citing 2,500 fewer deaths from road traffic accidents, the introduction of stricter drink driving legislation led many to doubt these figures. In 1971 the experiment was abandoned as no real advantages could be proved and British Summer Time was reinstated. The current system of changing the clocks in March and October was started following the British Summer Time Act of 1972.

Why are we still changing the clocks?

As a northerly country, Britain experiences short daylight hours in the winter and Daylight Saving Time has many benefits. When it was first introduced, coal was a large source of power and a great deal of money was saved from reduced consumption. Although we now have many cleaner alternatives, saving energy still saves money and reduces pollution. With global warming reaching critical levels, every little helps. Extra daylight in the evenings encourages people to exercise, which has proven benefits for physical and mental health. The extra hour of daylight on winter mornings makes road travel safer, protecting pedestrians, particularly children travelling to school. For industries such as farming where early morning work cannot be avoided, accident rates are dramatically reduced.

As a member of the European Union, from 2002 Britain followed EU stipulation that all member states must adjust their clocks in the current fashion. However following Brexit this is no longer an obligation and there have been calls for the abolition of British Summer time. Ironically, in March 2019 the European Parliament voted to abolish Daylight Savings time in the EU, starting in 2021. The worldwide Coronavirus pandemic has led to these plans being shelved temporarily, but a permanent European time zone could still happen. If Britain does not follow, this could cause disruptions to trade, aviation, and industry, with Britain one hour out of synch for half of the year. Ireland in particular could see much confusion, with Southern Ireland on European time and Northern Ireland still following British Summer time.

Clock Corner is a family run business specialising in exclusive, premium timepieces from the 18th Century to the present day. We stock a wide range of antique clocks of many styles and types and offer restoration, repair and servicing where needed. Whatever your needs, contact us, we will be happy to help.


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