Time Travel: Changing the Clocks


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A pamphlet by William Willett, advocating his Daylight Saving Bill

On 29th March 2015 British Summer Time officially begins in the United Kingdom. Each year this event is marked with the clocks being wound forward an hour, so that sixty minutes of daylight are saved.

British Summer Time, also known as Daylight Saving Time, was first proposed in Britain in 1907 by William Willett, a keen horse-rider who became annoyed at the wastefulness of having daylight so early in the morning during the summer months. He believed that if time was adjusted, more people would be out of bed and working, and therefore be making the most of the daylight hours.

Willett was not the first person to think that daylight time should be saved for better use. In 1784 Benjamin Franklin proposed the idea in a paper in the USA (where it was eventually adopted in 1966), and in 1895 George Vernon Hudson, an entomologist in New Zealand, presented a paper to the Wellington Philosophical Society outlining a daylight saving scheme, which was instituted in 1927.

In 1907 Willett presented a pamphlet to Parliament called The Waste of Daylight, outlining plans to encourage people to get up earlier in summer by changing the time on the nation’s clocks. His idea received no support, though, and by the time of his death in 1915, Willett still hadn’t managed to convince the government of the benefits of his time-shifting scheme.

In early 1916, however, Germany introduced the idea, and on 21st May of that year the British government decided to adopt the policy as well, and introduced The Summer Time Act.
The reason that Britain adopted the scheme so quickly after Germany was due to the First World War. Anything that could save fuel and money was worth trying. More daylight hours meant less need to light lamps, and therefore burn fuel, and less nighttime hours to endure bombing raids.
We have been ‘changing the clocks’ in the UK ever since, with them ‘springing’ forward an hour between Spring and Summer, and ‘falling back’ an hour between Autumn and Winter.

As a result of his idea, William Willett became a posthumous hero. However, not everyone liked his plan, and although we have been ‘changing the clocks’ in the UK ever since, with them ‘springing’ forward an hour between Spring and Summer, and ‘falling back’ an hour between Autumn and Winter, objections to the hour changes continue to be debated.

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Dr Kathryn Bates is a graduate of archaeology and history. She has excavated across the world as an archaeologist, and tutored medieval history at Leicester University. She joined the administrative team at Oxford Open Learning twelve years ago. Alongside her distance learning work, Dr Bates is a bestselling novelist, and an itinerant creative writing tutor for primary school children.

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